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An LA startup says it's 'found a better way' to pick hit shows — and it's already won Hollywood backing


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  • The startup Fresno Unlimited says it can make web series that have a better chance at being hits — thanks to artificial intelligence.
  • The company says its proprietary tech can also be used to distribute these shows directly to audiences who are most likely to watch.
  • Fresno has already worked with Jimmy Kimmel on a web original, and it plans to announce three new shows this summer. The firm has also just tapped a former Hulu executive, JP Colaco, as its new president of revenue and media.

There are dozens of production companies in Los Angeles that promise some sort of unique knack for making shows that connect with those younger consumers who live on digital platforms.

But one startup claims it knows exactly what people want to watch and how get it in front of them — thanks to artificial intelligence.

The venture-backed Fresno Unlimited has built a platform that pulls data from social media and other digital outlets to help content creators figure out which genres and topics are ripe for potential series. It has raised $8 million, with investors including the famed former Facebook engineer Chamath Palihapitiya, via his firm Social Capital.

Fresno also uses that same AI platform, which it calls PCH, to help isolate individual consumers on social-media platforms and push that AI-informed content straight to them.

It's the kind of pro-machine, Silicon Valley thinking that would seem to be at odds with Hollywood, known for its dedication to artists as well as the many gatekeepers who use connections, research, experience, and their gut to decide which shows and movies get made.

To help bridge that gap, Fresno is tapping someone with experience speaking both languages. The firm has just tapped Jean-Paul "JP" Colaco as its new president of revenue and media. Colaco spent six years building Hulu before leaving the online video outlet for stints at the now-defunct short-form-video startup Vessel and, most recently, the virtual-reality entertainment venture Jaunt VR.

Despite its less proven premise, Fresno Unlimited says it is attracting serious Hollywood interest. Last year the company produced a Facebook series featuring Jimmy Kimmel, and it expects to announce three more original series featuring big-name talent sometime this summer.

"We think we've found a better way," Fresno founder and CEO Rob Goldberg said. "We can use machine learning, data, and insights to minimize the failure rate and even predict what people want."

Goldberg said he could not yet fully explain exactly how Fresno's AI works, or where it pulls all of its data from, without spilling secrets. Some of it comes from publicly available sources and some is proprietary, he said.

OK, but how exactly does AI help make a better show? Goldberg mentioned a series that is in the works with a popular actress who was originally interested in producing a web show about art collecting.

Fresno Unlimited's tech found that only few people were predisposed to watch something that niche. But a much larger potential audience, while intimidated by the art-gallery world, associated art with cool Instagram images and the like. So the company is now working with the actress to produce a show with a broader appeal.

For his part, Colaco said he was drawn to Fresno by the idea that data and science could actually make content more predictable and distribution more precise.

"You're potentially increasing the likelihood that you can create a hit — you're making it easier for people to consume," he said. "It's harder and harder for marketer and creators to find audiences. If we do this right, brands should be able to align with super-premium content, and the engagement for their ads should be higher."

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