NBCU Digital Studio Teams Up With Omnicom Agency

Producers Keep Brands in Mind When Developing Two Web-Based Series

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- NBC Universal continues to deliver early on its promise to change up its programming schedule going into the 2008-09 TV upfront season. The company announced today two new web-based series, "Gemini Division" and "Woke Up Dead," the first productions to come out of its newly formed Digital Studio. And as both were shepherded by Ben Silverman, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, you can bet there's branded entertainment afoot.
Vivi Zigler
Vivi Zigler Credit: Mitchell Haaseth/NBC

Omnicom Group's OMG Digital will serve as the first strategic partner for the studio, in cooperation with sibling shops Davie Brown Entertainment and OMG Entertainment and Sports.

Intel, Microsoft, UPS and Acura TSX are already involved in the development of "Gemini Division," which premieres this summer. "Gemini," starring Rosario Dawson and Justin Hartley, and is a sci-fi series set five minutes in the future, blending live action and animation. It was co-produced in association with Electric Farm Entertainment, creator of Sony Pictures Television's sci-fi web series "Afterworld."

Working with brand teams
Cameron Death, the studio's new VP, told Ad Age the show's writing staff has been meeting with individual brand teams to develop integrations and plotlines to best fit each brand.

"They're so seamlessly and organically woven into the storyline, it just makes sense for the content," he said. "We're not using blunt force to put a product with a character attached to it, from a branded-content standpoint. VPs of marketing are actually sitting down with our executive producers and giving them deep, deep dives into their products. It's getting our writers so psyched on how they can make the storylines work better."

The other series, "Woke Up Dead," is in preproduction and follows the travails of a college student named Drex Greene who comes down with a wicked case of the undead, developing zombie-like characteristics. The series is also produced in association with Electric Farm Entertainment.

NBC is the third broadcast network in the past few weeks to devote more internal resources to digital programming and branded entertainment. ABC kicked things off by forming Stage 9 Digital Media, an in-house new-media studio, which unveiled its first original series, "Squeegees," in February on ABC.com and YouTube. CBS Television Distribution, CBS's syndication arm, followed that last week with the unveiling of its new branded-integration studio, designed to put more manpower behind multipronged brand integrations in its game shows and entertainment news. NBC, however, is the first network to develop a broad-based partnership with a media agency, in this case OMG Digital, for its new studio.

Two-pronged mission
Mr. Death joined NBC in November to spearhead the new studio and build hires and partnerships under the radar before today's formal announcement. Mr. Death reports to Vivi Zigler, exec VP-NBC Digital Entertainment and New Media, to whom Mr. Death will report as well.

Ms. Zigler said the studio's mission is two-pronged. The first goal, she said, is to "work from the brand side, having deep conversations in terms of individual advertiser brands. Cameron's group ideates against that idea; it creates scripts, casts and produces top-level entertainment that uses that brand organically."

The second part of that mission is distribution. Ms. Zigler said the new studio's content could be seen beyond just NBC.com and Hulu, NBCU's new joint-venture online-video hub, but scenes could also be teased across the NBCU cable networks (which include USA, Bravo and Sci-Fi) and NBC Everywhere out-of-home platforms, which include taxis, gas stations and supermarkets. "It could be any platform an advertiser is looking for," Ms. Zigler said.
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