NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The Microsoft-sponsored "Family Guy" special isn't the only major piece of branded entertainment you'll see from News Corp. in the coming months. Fox Atomic, News Corp.'s recently shuttered 2-year-old genre studio, is being rebranded to become Fox Digital Studios, a new unit that will focus heavily on branded programming.
David Worthen Brooks, a former senior VP at Fox Atomic, will act as creative director of the digital studio, tapping Roger Mincheff, former founder-CEO of digital marketing agency Spacedog Media, as its new senior VP-branded entertainment of digital content. Both will report to Peter Levinsohn, president of new media and digital distribution for Fox Filmed Entertainment.
Mr. Mincheff is a bit of an unorthodox hire for Fox, having worked primarily on graphic novels in his 11 years as CEO of Spacedog Media, where he integrated brands like Mazda, Universal Music, Qantas Airways, Boost Mobile and Harley-Davidson into storylines and other entertainment content. But Mr. Levinsohn saw it as a fairly seamless transition from comic books to online video.
"What we're all talking about he's already done," Mr. Levinsohn told Ad Age. "He's figured out how to get branded advertisers into a story, and there's really no difference whether it's graphic novels vs. video content."
Mr. Mincheff said his use of brands in content has always been to enhance a story's credibility. "If you're going to tell a hip-hop story, extreme sports story, a basketball story, you can't do it without brands, because brands are such a part of that world and makes it more authentic. At Spacedog, we did these incredibly relatable, human stories, and for the first time ever in comic books we saw brands do big brand integration as well. So to be able to work with Fox in completely out-of-the-box ways is pretty awesome."
Dino Bernacchi, Harley-Davidson's director-advertising, promotions and entertainment, who worked with Spacedog on integrating Harley into the graphic novel "Johnny Delgado Is Dead," added, "In the days of old, the person who got stuck to the branded-entertainment division was one of the marketing folks from the film studio. This is a guy who came from the comic-book and interactive background and made his way to one of the hottest, coolest networks to be the bridge between advertisers and content."
Fox is the latest broadcast network to put dedicated resources behind digital content, following similar moves from NBC, which has a similar division spearheaded by Microsoft vet Cameron Death, and ABC, which got into the digital content arena last year with the Toyota-sponsored "Squeegees." NBC has been the most aggressive of the bunch thus far, shopping around a dedicated programming slate for NBC.com to advertisers in this year's upfront and recently launching "CTRL," a web series sponsored by Nestea starring Tony Hale of "Arrested Development."
But despite early investment from advertisers and the attraction of brand-name actors, no TV network has yet to truly crack the code of how to develop original programming that works as well online as it does on the boob tube. And whenever they put successful web series on TV -- NBC's acquisition of MySpace's "QuarterLife," ABC's redo of MSN's "In The Motherhood" -- they fail within weeks.
Mr. Levinsohn declined to reveal any projects currently in development, but expects Fox Digital Studios to start shopping a production reel to advertisers by end of the fourth quarter. He thinks Fox has a solution to broadcast's online programming problem by targeting the diverse audiences across News Corp.'s digital portfolio, which includes everything from MySpace and Fox.com to its 33% stake in Hulu.
"We have a very active music consumer within MySpace Music, so it's not inconceivable that we would look to create a piece of content that resonates with a music audience that would be broadened for ubiquity across the web," Mr. Levinsohn said. "We would try to leverage the audience we have with gamers or sports fans on other sports fans on other properties in the same way. What's unique here is we're storytellers, and we can create content for any genre -- there are brands that make sense for any genre, too."
As an aspirational model, Mr. Levinsohn pointed to Joss Whedon's "Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog," an independently produced musical web series that starred Neil Patrick Harris and found a site-crashing cult following of more than 1 million views in its first few weeks on the web. "They had a very well-respected director, producer and writer in Joss Whedon, really talented people involved in the project and an interesting combination of ad-supported, transactional and physical all rolled up into one distribution life cycle."