Rainn Wilson’s SoulPancake Is Proof Positive People Want Happy Content

Rainn Wilson’s SoulPancake Is Proof Positive People Want Happy Content

Having a bad day? Feeling stressed at work? Looking to find your happy place? If any of these questions ring true for you, SoulPancake has you covered.

How about some Kitten Therapy, for instance? More than 9.4 million people have taken a time-out to get some. Or perhaps you’d like to learn about happiness in general and how to find more of it? Well, nearly 5.3 million people have watched The Science Of Happiness in search of the answer.

To counteract a 24-hour news cycle filling our brains with images of deadly fires, mass shootings, a vitriolic political landscape and cyberbullying, SoulPancake comes to the rescue with 100% positive content to uplift and inspire you.

“It’s no secret the internet can be a dark place, and when SoulPancake was started, it was because a group of friends and I wanted to create a space online that wasn’t that,” said SoulPancake founder Rainn Wilson, an actor best known for his role on The Office. “We wanted SoulPancake to be somewhere people could turn to for light, understanding and joy. We’ve spent the last 10 years building that, and these days, in this climate, I don’t think there’s a more important time for it.”

In 2008, Wilson discussed his idea for a new project on NPR. As he talked about his brainchild, a website that would be dedicated to chewing on life’s big questions, Shabnam Mogharabi was listening in awe. The two hadn’t yet met, but each had individually envisioned a platform where only positive content would exist.

“We birthed a niche 10 years ago,” Mogharabi said in a recent interview. “No one was doing this then. We knew that positive content could be shareable.”

In fact, the research supports this. A new survey shows Americans are actively looking for purpose-driven content that addresses social issues and concerns, in addition to an opportunity to take action. In the survey, conducted by Tirota, 80% of respondents said they’re attracted to movies and documentaries that address important social issues and causes. This translates to online content as well.

For instance, SoulPancake distributed Participant Media’s The Price of Free (formerly titled KAILASH), which tells the story of countless children who are forced into slave labor due to rising global demands for cheap goods. The film has nearly seven million views on SoulPancake’s YouTube channel and more than $145,000 has been raised for the cause.

Tirota’s results are based on 1,000 adult Americans that were surveyed online by Pollara Strategic Insights between November 28 and December 3. Findings also show that 78% of those polled believe the industry should provide more information on how to act on the issues their content explores, and more than 90% agree that movies can play an important role in informing people about social issues.

Although this research is new, Wilson and Mogharabi were already onto the concept a decade ago. Upon first listening to Wilson discuss his idea on NPR, she had a self-described “visceral moment.” Mogharabi, now the CEO of SoulPancake, laughed as she recalled the experience. “It was like Rainn Wilson stole my idea! I called anyone and everyone I knew that might be able to connect us.”

Her efforts paid off, and she met with Wilson and his business partner, and they loved her enthusiasm. There was, however, a hitch. It was February 2009, and she had only three weeks to get enough content to launch what was from Day 1 meant to be a destination website to spark conversations about life’s biggest questions. “I called in favors and got what we needed,” she says.

Mogharabi admits to a rough start when they first went out in Hollywood to pitch their idea for a good-news-only site. Meetings would end in tears. Even the toughest of executives were moved by the content. But, she says, no one would bite. “People said no one would watch.” The SoulPancake team begged to differ, and their hunches proved correct.

Within a year of launch, Wilson was approached by Oprah. “She said she loved the site and wanted us to create short-form content that speaks to the younger generations for her network,” says Mogharabi. The result was SoulPancake on OWN.

Since its inception, SoulPancake has built a library of more than 6,000 videos that include shorter, snackable social media content that hovers around two minutes, mid-form content that ranges from three to 11 minutes and longer-form videos that can be up to 44 minutes. The LA-based company has created 45 digital series on its social platform and an approximate half-dozen have been picked up for TV, including the popular scripted half-hour comedy Impress Me about two celebrity impressionists who create a 12-Step Program in order to stop doing impressions and transition into being serious dramatic actors.

Other viral hits have included the Kid President franchise, which in 2013 went viral. The Kid President Pep Talk video alone received more than 44 million views, and the franchise has received well over 200 million. Additionally, a book on the franchise, Kid President’s Guide To Being Awesome, ended up on The New York Times bestseller list a few years later. The company is also working on a reboot entitled Kid Congress to celebrate and inspire kids to recognize their ability to create positive impact and discover a new generation of diverse young leaders.

Additional top shows include My Last Days, which began as a digital series on SoulPancake and just completed its third season on the CW. The series documents both the struggles and the uplifting stories of young people with terminal illnesses. There’s also the popular dating show Tell My Story, which points out the implicit bias and immediate judgments we make about one another. “It’s a mirror that’s held up to show us how we eliminate people before we take the time to really get to know them,” explains Mogharabi. “Several of the participants have actually gone on to have dates.”

SoulPancake has more than 700 million video views across its digital platforms. In addition to two New York Times bestselling books, the company was named in Inc. Magazine’s Inc. 500 list of the fastest-growing businesses, where the company listed its revenue for 2014 at $3.9 million.

The company is now a division of Participant Media, which just received 17 Academy Award nominations for hits such as Roma, Green Book and the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary RBG. Mogharabi did not share current revenue numbers but says the company has grown.

The content studio now has 28 employees that work tirelessly to inspire and connect audiences across digital platforms, television and OTT with live events (SoulPancake LIVE) and branded entertainment. SoulPancake has won 12 Webby Awards, four Streamy Awards and a daytime Emmy.

The company’s positive content has attracted brand partners such as Coca-Cola, ConAgra Foods, GE, Google, Microsoft, Sprint, T-Mobile for Business, the United Nations, Visa, Panera Bread, Lululemon and more.

Recent examples include the digital video series on food transparency with Panera entitled Food Interrupted. The six-episode weekly series details the company’s new labelling policy aimed at providing increased transparency on what is in our food and where it comes from, so we can make informed decisions about what we eat. Topics covered range from animal welfare, plant-based meals, clean ingredients and sugar consumption with the goal of sparking a dialogue about our current food system and to advocate for food system change. In addition, SoulPancake recently teamed up with Tastemade for a multi-project agreement to develop original programming for their combined online audience of more than 35 million.

Research has shown that if you’re watching a video or reading an article that elicits a strong emotional response, either positive (joy and awe) or negative (anger and anxiety), you’re more likely to share it, and the content is more likely to go viral.

Although anger-inducing content is still likely to be shared, it’s the inspiring content that can actually benefit our well-being in the long run. So why not share feel-good content? For that, SoulPancake delivers the goods.