Above: From the Reading Rainbow website
LeVar Burton, who played Geordi on Star Trek: The Next Generation, is now leading exploration into strange new worlds — of crowdfunding.
Today, Burton’s Reading Rainbow campaign announced it has broken Kickstarter‘s record for the most backers ever — over 91,000. It has now raised $4,526,000 of its $5 million stretch goal, with about 50 hours left. In addition, late last week, producer/actor/animator Seth MacFarlane pledged that he would match the next $1 million of pledges beyond $4 million.
The funding will not be used to bring back the PBS TV series about the joys of reading but instead will expand an app for iPad and Kindle Fire tablets.
“The thing about the Reading Rainbow experiment,” Forrester VP and principal analyst James McQuivey told VentureBeat, “is not that it’s a way for Reading Rainbow to bypass traditional TV as much as it is an acknowledgement that the traditional TV economics are too difficult to sustain for more than a small number of properties.”
He pointed out that “even a beloved property with a powerful brand like this one is going to struggle to fit back into the narrow space available in the current TV lineup — whether on public television broadcast system or in the cable lineup where the competition for children’s attention is intense.”
The free app, released in 2012, offers interactive access to a library of children’s books, plus video field trips. New book and video content is available for a subscription of $10 monthly through what is essentially a curated reader’s club. To date, the campaign says, kids have accessed 13 million books and video field trips.
“I am excited to bring Reading Rainbow back so that parents who watched the show can now share the same feel-good experience with their own children but on a platform that resonates with today’s digital kids,” Burton says on the project’s Facebook page.
The show went off air in 2006. The pledged funds, according to the campaign, will be used to develop a web version, a classroom version of the app with tools for teachers, plus subsidies so that needy schools can use the app without charge.
It’s clear that Reading Rainbow has an enthusiastic fan base of former kids who are now ready to back the program’s newest incarnation. The company reached its original Kickstarter funding target – $1 million – in a single day.
“Kickstarter,” McQuivey told us, “has been unlocking these opportunities for many kinds of content creators including, notably, comic book or graphic novel authors who have used Kickstarter for years to successfully fund projects that the audience or fan base is passionate about.”
“For Reading Rainbow to leverage its brand in exactly the same way is really a very smart thing for them to do.”