Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story inaccurately reported that Ben Silverman initiated Reveille's relationship with MSN and took the company's production of "The Office" and "Ugly Betty" with him when he left in 2007. The MSN relationship was initiated by both Mr. Silverman and Howard Owens, and Reveille remains a producer of "The Office" and "Ugly Betty."
LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- When Ben Silverman left Reveille for NBC in 2007, many Hollywood execs, TV networks and web distributors alike wondered what would happen to the company Mr. Silverman founded in 2002 without its creator on-board. For Reveille managing directors Howard T. Owens and Mark Koops, that means a growing mix of brand-funded content for the web and high-profile projects for TV, with Mr. Silverman's signature stamp of international portability still intact.
This week, Reveille kicks off a new partnership with Yahoo, debuting the first original video series for Yahoo News, "Who Knew?" sponsored by Toyota as a launch platform for its Avalon vehicle. The Yahoo partnership represents one of Reveille's first major partnerships following a formerly exclusive development deal with Microsoft's MSN to create branded entertainment.
The Yahoo pact will likely yield other original content from Reveille, as part of the portal's strategy to partner with name-brand production companies -- including Mr. Silverman's new IAC venture, Electus.
Mr. Owens said Reveille needs to start looking at its relationships with web portals and other distributors the same way it does with its TV partners.
"Yahoo's approach is a little bit different than Microsoft's, just as NBC's is different in spirit than MTV and so on. We want to be able to work with the right partner for the best product," he said.
It was Mr. Silverman's departure from Reveille in 2007 that first prompted the company to look at new ventures, as he initiated the company's still-active production on shows such as "The Office" and "Ugly Betty." By the time Reveille was sold to Elizabeth Murdoch's Shine Productions for $150 million in 2008, the company was juggling a busy TV slate with a mix of broadcast and cable projects (NBC's "The Biggest Loser" and "American Gladiators," FX's "30 Days," Showtime's "The Tudors") and a web slate that was limited to one then-exclusive partner, MSN.
The MSN deal was initially engineered by Mr. Owens as a platform to integrate brands into original web series for MSN's home page and content channels, including "The Guy's Manual" for Grape Nuts, "It's Everybody's Business With Jack and Suzy Welch" for Microsoft, "Chef to the Rescue" for Kraft, Morningstar Farms and Procter & Gamble, and "Five Minute Office Workout," sponsored by Kraft and hosted by "Biggest Loser" trainer Bob Harper.
Although only a couple of those series could be considered measurable hits by web standards ("Guy's Manual," for example, just entered its third season and has generated more than 10 million cumulative streams and impressions for Grape Nuts), Mr. Owens pointed to each series' multiple-season renewal as a TV-like sign of confidence and long-term profitability.
"The first season of a new web series, like a TV pilot, can be very expensive to produce, so you're taking a loss until you've been rewarded by the distributor for more seasons," he said. "The proposition for us is in creating intellectual property, which is why content companies are coming to us to create new programs."
"Who Knew?" speaks directly to that strategy. The daily series follows a format very similar to "Pop Up Video," whose creator, Woody Thompson, helped develop the new show for Reveille and Yahoo. Each 90-second episode will spotlight Yahoo News' most clicked-on topic or story of the day, with rapid-fire tangential information about related events and people (Tiger Woods' recent return to golf and his sponsorship with Nike is an example). Toyota will sponsor a "comforting fact" each Friday to echo its "Comfort is back. Travel Avalon Class" branding message.
Yahoo's Erika Nardini, VP-packaging and branded entertainment, said Reveille's integrated approach to branded web content coincided with her company's focus on creating content that's directly influenced by user behavior and engagement. Yahoo News' network of 43 million monthly unique visitors, for example, was a good to place to drive traffic to daily series like "Who Knew?"
"Our audience loves to info-snack on Yahoo, so this was a great way to think about a creative way to think about a creative take on delivering current news and headlines," she said.
Kim Kyaw, Toyota's senior media strategist, pointed to a previous Reveille series, MSN's "Appetite For Life," a sponsorship vehicle for the Toyota Venza launch hosted by the Travel Channel's Andrew Zimmern, as the impetus for the brand's Yahoo deal.
"The Avalon customer wants to learn about media and exercise their brain at the same time. It was important for us to work and collaborate with them to create a different take on entertaining news content," she said.
On the TV front, Reveille is seeing renewed momentum as well. This summer brings "Biggest Loser" spinoff "Losing It With Jillian" on NBC June 1 and "MasterChef," an adaptation of the British /Australian competition series with Gordon Ramsay for Fox on July 29. CBS will also team up with Reveille for a U.S. version of British hit "Got to Dance" later this year.
Perhaps most interesting, however, is a new first-look deal with Jack Black's production company Electric Dynamite, designed to bring the comedic actor to TV behind the camera -- and potentially in front of it, depending on the format.
"We have a specialty in working with intellectual properties and brands, and Jack Black is a brand," Mr. Owens said. "He's got such a following and stands for cool in such a fun and aspirational way."