Comcast NBC's recipe for tapping $43B crafts market: Add glitter (and a few stars)

Carly Ciarrocchi AE1EGTV24-20062018-0001
Wilmington’s Carly Ciarrocchi, host of Universal Kids' "The Big Fun Crafty Show," which also appears on Comcast NBC Universal's Craftsy Unlimited streaming service. The show, she says, is “about the fact that anyone can craft”

I’m watching (and paying for) a number of streaming TV services these days, but only one taught me to slipcover a cushion.

This is not nothing: I’d feared sewing since the time in home ec that I put the zipper in an A-line skirt upside down. A class I took over the winter at my neighborhood sewing-supplies store taught me to make a simple pillow cover and got me to dust off my mother’s old Singer. But it wasn’t until I’d binge-watched several courses on Craftsy a few months ago that I had the nerve to tackle a more complicated living room chair project that’s needed doing for years, or to make a fully lined handbag  — with zippers! — using the leftover fabric.

And, oh yeah, I followed that by making my first quilt, something that as a longtime knitter and occasional weaver I’d sworn I’d never do, because the last thing I need is another textile-based obsession.

(If you’re one of the people whose craft-related purchases contributed to what a 2016 study pegged as a $43 billion industry, you know what I mean.)

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I soon realized my newest hobby was bound to lead to more screen time, not less, and that the Denver-based Craftsy, which last year was acquired by Comcast NBCUniversal, had aspirations beyond being an online marketplace and supplier of  tutorials for quilters, cabinetmakers, cake decorators, and other hands-on hobbyists.

As NBCUniversal Cable chief Bonnie Hammer noted in a memo at the time, “Craftsy is a digital network with its own production studios, which we view as an extension of our own studios … We believe that the interests and passions of our shared audiences naturally align.”

It wasn’t long after the Comcast acquisition that Craftsy announced it would be adding a Netflix-style subscription option — now called Craftsy Unlimited — that’s now streamable not just on computers and through its apps, but on TVs through Apple TV and Roku.

I’ve also noted an effort to inject more personality into the site. Craftsy courses, in my experience, are solidly produced. The instructors appear to know their stuff. They interact with students online who post questions and comments. It’s the least you should expect from classes you’re paying for. But in a world where many of us turn to free videos on YouTube to get our how-to questions answered, it doesn’t hurt to have a few stars.

Angela Walters, Craftsy
Camera icon Courtesy of Craftsy
Quilting instructor Angela Walters, star of “The Midnight Quilt Show,” is a Craftsy instructor who this month hosted the streaming site’s first live event for subscribers.

Crafty Unlimited  this month sponsored its first live event, billed as a weekend-long party with quilting instructor Angela Walters, whose YouTube series The Midnight Quilt Show, also carried on Craftsy, features Walters, frequently fortified by wine and popcorn, piecing and quilting her colorful creations after her kids have gone to bed. A new Craftsy Unlimited series, True Up,  gives viewers glimpses of Walters’ daytime life beyond the quilting room. (Turns out she has not just kids, but goats.)

Comcast-owned NBC, meanwhile, is getting ready to launch Making It, a crafting competition hosted by former Parks and Recreation costars Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman, on July 31. The company’s  Universal Kids channel (formerly Sprout) last month premiered The Big Fun Crafty Show (5:30 p.m. weekdays), an arts and crafts competition series for kids that’s hosted by Wilmington’s Carly Ciarrocchi (Sprout House), with reruns prominently featured on Craftsy Unlimited.

Ciarrocchi, a niece of longtime CBS3 anchor Pat Ciarrocchi, got her start in TV in Philadelphia as a cohost of  Sunny Side Up, a live show for preschoolers that before its move to New York originated from a studio in the Comcast tower, where her costar was a chicken puppet named Chica.

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Now the Archmere Academy grad, who majored in theater at Northwestern, is overseeing teams of school-age kids as they carry out crafting challenges in which glue and glitter feature prominently.

Sunny Side Up always felt like my destiny, and this craft show also felt like my destiny,” said Ciarrocchi in a phone interview on Wednesday. The oldest of seven, she credits her mother, who always arranged craft activities for parties and family occasions, with getting her started.

“I think my mom invented the photo booth,” she said. For one party when Ciarrocchi was in fourth or fifth grade, “I remember she had Polaroid cameras set up and like costume pieces and you could take a picture of yourself and your friends dressed in the costumes and then make a frame that was either like a cut-out pumpkin or a cut-out ghost, and then decorate the frame. My mom will tell you she does not identify as an artistic person … and yet she set up these very special crafts for us growing up.”

Later, “when I was living in Chicago, before I got cast on Sunny Side Up, I was a straight-up preschool teacher, doing craft projects” with 2- and 3-year-olds, or sometimes guiding caregivers or parents “to do the craft while their kid like kind of ran around and then screamed,” she said.

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After Universal Kids picked up the Toronto-shot pilot for The Big Fun Crafty Show — which also involves a lot of running around, a little bit of screaming, and, yes, a tie-in with Craftsy — Ciarrocchi headed back to Canada to film the first 40-episode season in just six weeks.

“It was bananas. We were doing two episodes a day, and each episode is a unique cast of kid crafters. So six kids an episode, 12 kids a day. It was, I mean, so much energy, so much glitter, so many googly eyes, so much cleanup,” she said.

The show’s format doesn’t lend itself to time-consuming projects like knitting or woodworking, but “expertise in crafting is not what The Big Fun Crafty Show is about,” Ciarrocchi said.

“It is about the fact that anyone can craft. We have kids on the show who are, I would call them, experts, like kids with their own YouTube crafting channels, but we also have kids who just like making stuff,” she said. The show “empowers absolutely any kid, with any interest, to create. So if you can think of an idea and follow a curiosity, then you can make stuff.”

Her role is “to push that curiosity along. I do sort of feel I’m an expert at that, an expert at saying, ‘Yes, you can do it. Yes, and.

So it’s a kind of improv?

“Totally. It’s improv with pipe cleaners.”

It’s too soon to say exactly what Poehler and Offerman’s Making It will look like — fewer googly eyes, I’m guessing — but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar tie-in with Craftsy, which, according to a spokesperson, will be a key sponsor.

Offerman’s a woodworker as well as an actor and comedian, and in NBC’s trailer, Poehler’s presenting herself  to contestants  as a “person who has no idea how you do the things you do but is very happy to be here.”

Like Ciarrocchi, she hopes to inspire.

“In a way, we’re trying to make a TV show that would make you turn off your TV,” she says in the trailer, and “go and make something.”

 

WATCH THEM

The Big Fun Crafty Show. 5:30 p.m. weekdays, Universal Kids.

Making It. 10 p.m. Tuesdays, NBC, starting July 31.