Madison & Vine, Ad Age's original cross-section of the New York ad community and Hollywood, will be taking a broad look over the next year at the key players, projects and platforms in the digital branded-entertainment arena. Check in with M&V as we keep tabs on established players; check in with the media agencies and marketing firms that continue to staff up their branded-content divisions; or profile the newest studios and media companies entering the space.
The Player: Matter Entertainment
Location: Chicago, Los Angeles and New York
Key Execs: Andy Marks, New York general manager and co-founder; David Freeman, Los Angeles general manager and co-founder; Paul Kontonis, senior VP-branded entertainment; and Mary Scott, New York general manager.
Key Projects: "The Funny Truth About Credit," a web series for Experian starring Jon Lovitz, Vivica A. Fox and Pauly Shore; "Garden Party," an NBC.com series for Hidden Valley Ranch starring Jennie Garth; "Filter for Good," a clean-water project for Brita and Nalgene integrated into the "The Biggest Loser" that bowed at Sundance.
The Background: Founded in 2003 by Messrs. Marks and Freeman, Matter was a sports-and-entertainment production company that made a big splash with its Cannes Gold Lion-winning "Terry Tate, Office Linebacker" program for Reebok. In 2006, Matter merged with PR firm Edelman to create a full-service production and branded-entertainment offering.
After years of multiplatform projects with clients such as Clorox, Nissan and Brita and major properties like Nascar, "The Biggest Loser," the Sundance Film Festival and Yahoo Music, Matter is making a big investment in online video this year, with more than six projects already under its belt.
"Digital video has proved to be an exponential factor in terms of the way consumers are behaving online," Mr. Freeman said, acknowledging that Hollywood has only recently caught up to the viewing trend. "Three or four years ago we weren't having the same conversations we're having today with directors, writers and producers because the marketplace is significantly shifting. Everyone wants to understand how they can be a force online."
Next Steps: For its next play for becoming a leading producer in branded web content, Matter tapped Paul Kontonis, former CEO of digital production shop For Your Imagination, as its new senior VP of branded entertainment. At FYI, Mr. Kontonis produced 16 different web series and video networks, including "Break a Leg" for blip.TV, "WineHarvest TV" and the "Axis of Comedy" network, where he honed his skills not only as a creator of web video but as a leading syndicator. He's also a frequent speaker at web video conferences and events, and recently helped launch New York meet-up BigScreen LittleScreen to host open forums between web producers and distributors.
"Paul understands the intricacies of how to make branded web content discoverable and to us that's invaluable," Mr. Freeman said. "He has an understanding that shooting for the web is different from TV and film, and we do believe that distribution complements the content, so having his production knowledge added to our team is the right combination."
If there's one thing Mr. Kontonis has learned from years in the web video space, it's that webisodes should never reside in just one place or home page.
"Trying to build up a site is nigh-impossible. It requires investment and a lot of time, something a lot of people don't have," Mr. Kontonis said. "So you go to a YouTube and get your percentage of the revenue, but all that means is you have to scale up even higher. If you're relying on [an ad] revenue share, you're going to make a $15 CPM [or the cost-per-thousand viewers] on all those views, it's probably an $8 or $6 effective CPM, which means you're going to need 3 million views, not 1 million. We're trying to steer the dialogue away from that."
Mr. Kontonis also hopes to redefine success metrics for branded video with a little dose of client transparency. "People love to brag about video views, but they're completely relative. It's all a function of your budget," he said. "Unless you know what somebody's marketing, promotional and distribution budget was, you have no way of knowing what a success was. Marketing is about sales, not all those intermediary metrics."