Maker Studios Snags AOL, Yahoo Execs for Original Content Division (Exclusive)

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Gabriel Lewis (center)

The Disney-owned digital media firm has hired Gabriel Lewis and Bonnie Pan to its programming division, led by chief content officer Erin McPherson.

Maker Studios is making a significant bet on original content with two big digital media hires.

In a coup for the Disney-owned firm, former AOL Studios head Gabriel Lewis has been tapped as executive vp development and strategy and Yahoo programming veteran Bonnie Pan (pictured below) will join as executive vp programming. Both start Aug. 11 and will report to chief content officer Erin McPherson.

Lewis previously was vp AOL Studios and AOL Originals, where he spearheaded the tech firm's programming strategy and helped develop its formula for advertiser-friendly shortform content driven by well-known personalities. AOL developed shows such as Nicole Richie's #CandidlyNicole and Steve Buscemi's Park Bench under his leadership. In his new role, Lewis will be responsible for developing Maker’s pipeline of more than 200 original projects in development, working with the multichannel network’s top YouTube talent and partnering with Hollywood.

Pan was most recently head of originals and programming at Yahoo Video, where she worked with McPherson, formerly head of video at Yahoo, for more than three years. During her time at the Sunnyvale tech firm, Pan oversaw Yahoo Screen's move into longform content by resurrecting Community and picking up a pair of series from Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) and Mike Tollin (One Tree Hill). She also led the programming and development of projects including Electric City from Tom Hanks and The Bachelor spoof Burning Love.

At Maker, Pan will be responsible for expanding the MCN's 23 content verticals, building out programming under the categories of family, entertainment, life and style, and gaming and sports.

"Bonnie and Gabe both bring this wealth of knowledge and expertise in content and programming and we’re going to leverage that as we grow and expand our business," McPherson tells THR. "I think the fact that both of them are coming speaks to the incredible growth we're seeing in our business and the massive opportunity we have with Disney now to really expand our programming offerings."

Original content has become an increasingly important part of Maker's business, as it looks to own content and develop more distribution channels off YouTube. The Culver City-based firm made its first presentation at the Digital Content NewFronts this year, announcing a slate of originals that included a comedy from Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele and a docuseries from YouTube creator Shay Carl.

Maker also recently launched, its first off-YouTube platform that includes a mix of original content, videos from its network of creators and shows from third-party partners.

Lewis and Pan join Maker at a key moment for the firm, which was folded into Disney in May. McPherson, who was hired in November last year to jump-start Maker's content strategy, says that the network now has more than 6.5 billion streams a month and will soon reveal a number of initiatives with its new parent company.

"We're going from startup to being part of the Disney family and we're at an inflection point for online video as a whole industry," she adds. "You combine those two things and it's just a unique moment in time to be in this business and to be at Maker."

Twitter: @NatJarv