But the Chernin Group had a theory. “With every new wave of technology, great new brands emerge, and we wanted to own those brands,” Mr. Jacobs said. “They certainly weren’t going to be incubated inside the large media companies,” where they would have to compete for resources.
The men focused on niches with hyper-passionate fan bases. “Fans willing to pay for video, buy merchandise, buy tickets to live events, engage with advertisers associated with the brand,” Mr. Jacobs said. About 100,000 people paid to attend Rooster Teeth fan conventions last year, for instance. Rooster Teeth-branded merchandise (hats, shirts, socks, beer mugs) generated millions of dollars in sales.
Not every bet has paid off. Otter bought Creativebug, a maker of arts and crafts videos, in 2014 for about $10 million. Creativebug’s fan base never solidified, and Otter sold it for a loss last year. An effort to develop a site called Soompi into a destination for fans of Korean entertainment failed. Otter also had a setback with Fullscreen, which introduced and then shut down a subscription on-demand platform.
For Mr. Chernin, the Otter sale raises the question of what he will do next. There has been speculation in Hollywood that he is planning to raise at least $500 million to invest in a new generation of media start-ups.
Mr. Chernin declined to comment on the speculation. He said, however, “I think we will continue to do a version of what we do, which is make movies and television shows, and we will look to continue to invest in consumer technology brands.”
The Chernin Group owns other digital businesses, including Barstool Sports, whose reputation is so toxic that ESPN canceled a partnership with it after 10 day. The company also owns a minority stake in Headspace, which sells meditation via an app. Mr. Chernin, who previously ran Rupert Murdoch’s entertainment empire, also has a movie division — hits include the “Planet of the Apes” series — that supplies 20th Century Fox.
About six years remain on that deal, Mr. Chernin said. Asked what would happen when Disney completes its $71.3 billion acquisition of the studio, he said, “I’m going to be a proud member of the Disney family.”