Today everyone wants to be in the content-creation and -ownership business -- agencies are making movies, marketers are setting up production facilities and we all know about consumers and their YouTube specials -- but this is the most aggressive move yet by one of the longtime kings of content, the Hollywood studios, to get into digital content and partner with advertisers.
Aimed at satisfying advertisers' growing thirst for original content and digital platforms, the division, dubbed Studio 2.0, will integrate brands and develop programming specifically for ad sponsorship.
Warner Bros. has hired award-winning ad-industry veteran Rich Rosenthal, who has spent the past decade at Young & Rubicam, to head the venture. An Emmy-nominated commercial producer, Mr. Rosenthal has worked with marketers such as Sony, United Airlines, Procter & Gamble and General Mills.
"We view this as a natural extension of what we do every day as content creators, and we're adapting to the digital environment," said Bruce Rosenblum, president of Warner Bros. Television Group. "Since advertisers were intimately involved in the early days of television, it makes sense for them to be involved in this arena, too."
There's no deal in place, but logic suggests programming could be distributed on sibling AOL, and licensed to websites and wireless providers. There's no blueprint for how the partnerships will work, Mr. Rosenblum said, nor is there a business model for financing the programming, though it's expected marketers will help foot the bill through sponsorships, integration fees or co-financing.
Advertising and entertainment
"We've been hearing from advertisers that they want to closely align their messages with entertainment content," said Craig Hunegs, exec VP-Warner Bros. TV Group. "The goal is to create stand-alone content that speaks to the audience. It's not about creating something that looks like a commercial."
The content could provide a springboard to TV series or other entertainment, executives said. Studio 2.0 will draw from Warner Bros. resources, including on-air and behind-the-camera talent, and Mr. Rosenthal will act as a sort of talent scout.
"There's a greater chance of getting an audience invested in entertaining stories and characters," Mr. Rosenthal said. "Advertisers want to collaborate on ideas outside the traditional avenues."
News Corp.'s Fox TV Studios also intends to create original content with marketers in mind, aligning with branding guru Peter Arnell in a nonexclusive pact to create content across platforms. The studio also made a first-look deal with ad hotshop Crispin Porter & Bogusky. No projects have come out of either deal.
WPP Group's MindShare Entertainment has worked with Walt Disney Co.'s ABC to produce ad-backed, brand-embedded programming, and with CBS on original movies.
Ad agencies are increasingly creating their own content for clients, and marketers such as Anheuser-Busch are showing they want to own and even produce their own entertainment content. Commercial production houses are creating more of their own content as well.