RoadShow Panel Mulls Rewards, Challenges

Brands, show biz step up courtship

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%%STORYIMAGE_LEFT%% You complete me.

Brand marketers and entertainment companies are, after many fits and starts, realizing that they really do belong together. The prenuptial details, though, can still ignite some heated discourse, as evidenced last week at the L.A. RoadShow's Madison + Vine panel in Hollywood.

"The landscape has changed dramatically, and each side needs the other," said Robert Riesenberg, director of Magna Global Entertainment, which created NBC's "The Restaurant" and TNT's Johnson & Johnson Spotlight Presentation film series. "On TV, advertisers are spending more and getting less for their dollars. The networks need strong marketing partners."

Look no further than at Fox's Emmy telecast for affirmation of the increasing role of brand marketers in TV funding. David A. Rosemont, executive producer of J&J Spotlight feature "Door to Door," thanked both Riesenberg and J&J Corporate VP-Advertising, Andrea Alstrup in his acceptance speech. The made-for-TV feature picked up six Emmys including best movie, and acting for William H. Macy.

This co-marketing paradigm is also gaining new currency in feature film for strapped studios that continue to up the ante on production and marketing costs. "Promotions have moved away from a revenue-generating activity [where brands paid dearly for associations with entertainment], to more of a powerful marketing activity," said George Leon, Sony Pictures Entertainment, exec VP-worldwide promotions and product placement, noting the scales of power shifting to brands.

And as experience has shown, it's a fine line between the ridiculous and the sublime.

"We all have to be very respectful, and let the creative people do what they do best," said Riesenberg. Even he said "The Restaurant" at times "crossed the line" in integrating American Express and other sponsors into the content. "We learned from our mistakes."

%%PULLQUOTE_RIGHT%% While the jury may be out on the effectiveness of the product integration, Riesenberg and co-producer Ben Silverman of Reveille have broken new ground with their innovative financing scheme that shifted much of the cost burden from the network, NBC, to the brands and the producers. The network has renewed the show for a second season(See FYI below).

Deals can sometimes hinge on comfort level, which brands have difficulty finding. "It's not that we're risk-averse," said Cindy Spodek Dickey, marketing manager for Microsoft's Smart Personal Objects Technology. "There's a learning curve. A lot of companies don't have entertainment in their heritage, and yet some are embracing it like never before."

After initially shying away from edgy and gross-out TV fare, advertisers are now opening their checkbooks for unscripted shows. "A lot has changed in the past few years on what's considered controversial," said Mike Fleiss, executive producer of ABC's "The Bachelor." "As we continue to try to get people to watch TV and talk about it the next day, we'll have to keep trying new things."

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