Why you need to know him: Mr. Tanz's company, co-founded with actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, has been producing brand-backed
|Larry Tanz, president-CEO of LivePlanet
programming since it was founded six years ago. Its credits include three seasons of the reality series "Project Greenlight," and the Mountain Dew-sponsored snowboarding film "First Descent."
Credentials: Mr. Tanz joined Los Angeles-based LivePlanet when it started nearly six years ago. Before that he was director of strategy and operations at the former AOL Time Warner, where he worked on strategy and acquisitions, focusing on content platforms such as music, instant messaging and small business. He was also senior associate at Mercer Management Consulting, helping Fortune 100 clients develop and implement new products and strategies. Engagements ranged from Internet to retail and included over a year on the ground working with clients in Southeast Asia. He also has a master's degree in behavioral psychology.
What are some the projects LivePlanet has recently produced? What's coming up? "Our most recent project is 'First Descent,' a feature film documentary on the story of the snowboarding revolution that was distributed late last year by Universal and Lions Gate and financed and marketed by Mountain Dew. We have several scripted and unscripted projects in development for film, TV and interactive media. They include 'PhoneTag,' a wireless game of tag using GPS-enabled phones in partnership with Amp'd Mobile. It will be previewed at E3 this month. 'Running the Sahara' is a feature film documenting an expedition across the Sahara Desert and raising support for African causes. And a documentary in the world of video games for MTV [is also in the works]."
LivePlanet has always been interested in working with and integrating marketers into projects. Why? How do brands benefit your productions and what do you provide them in return? "The right brand integrated in the right way can actually make a story better and more believable. After all, in the 'real' world, brands exist and we interact with them. Brands can also help market projects right back to their target audience, which is a huge benefit. Also, brands can add to the entertainment content -- in every season of 'Project Greenlight' our brand partners have given the filmmakers in our community extra enjoyment, from the Sam Adams [beer] commercial contest to the [Hewlett-Packard] 'Take Five' digital photography contest. Brands benefit from our productions by working directly with us, the producers, and being built in to the project vs. being retrofitted as an afterthought. They also get a seat at the table creatively and a stake in the process. More specifically, we provide them with activation opportunities that can extend across many platforms such as online, direct marketing, promotions, sweepstakes and television ads."
What are brands asking from producers these days? Have their needs changed over time? "Brands are more savvy and direct in their requests, but they are also making better creative choices that consider the best way to become an organic part of the entertainment rather than hitting the audience over the head with their presence."
When it comes to working with brands, LivePlanet has pretty much focused on reality. Will you also be pursuing scripted programming, and how would marketers fit in? "We did some groundbreaking integration a few years ago on a scripted ABC series, 'Push, Nevada.' Our brand partners were Sprint and Toyota. The show had a treasure-hunt mystery as one of the plot lines, and we hid clues for the mystery in actual Toyota TV spots. We even created a Web site for the Toyota dealership of our fictional town and had clues on that site among the normal Toyota product info. With Sprint, aside from numerous plot integrations, we also had Sprint announce the rollout of PCS service in the fictional town of 'Push.' LivePlanet currently has several other scripted projects in development, including a feature film that will heavily involve a major brand in the sports world."
You're getting into new territory with Amp'd and the game PhoneTag. What is it about mobile that was appealing? "Since LivePlanet was founded to produce entertainment properties for both traditional and new media, wireless is a natural platform for us. We actually came up with the idea of playing 'Gotcha' on cellphones several years ago, but had to wait for the technology to catch up. Now with GPS-enabled phones, we have the ability to engage our audience in a truly interactive experience -- any place, any time. The game can grow on the crest of the wireless explosion and can scale globally. Mobile is part of the new programming mix for content networks. Look at how Amp'd and other MVNOs [mobile virtual network operators] are appealing to niche audiences the same way cable networks did back in the early 1980s."
How would you integrate brands? You've talked about what you might do with retailers like Starbucks. Are there other examples? "Any brand with a retail presence can be tied directly into game play, since the game board is the real world. For example, if a player goes into a sponsor's location, they might be able to purchase, through their phone, an invisibility device or a decoy device that would make them harder to capture. Players would actually benefit from going to a location -- but in a fun way and not just with a discount coupon. Also, the locations and brand logos would appear on the actual game map providing visual branding and consumer awareness of actual store locations. Brands will also integrate in more traditional ways such as sponsoring tournaments and placement in the game screens."
Do you have any deals yet? "We will announce deals when we get closer to the commercial launch, but as you can imagine, with the shift to online and wireless media spending and our unique ability to integrate brands, there is a ton of early interest."
What was it like producing 'First Descent' with Mountain Dew? "They were a dream partner because they got it and stuck to the purity of the idea -- they didn't over-brand in the film. This protected the integrity of the story and helped us bring in both Universal and Lions Gate to pick up the film for distribution [domestic and international, respectively].
How was Mountain Dew involved? "John Galloway from [Mountain Dew parent] Pepsi was knee-deep in the process from the very beginning to the benefit of the project. Pepsi understands the target audience better than anyone, and was able to mobilize their infrastructure from retail and online to advertising and direct marketing in support of the film and the DVD. Instead of making the film into a commercial, they used it as a platform to reach millions of people through live events, online, retail, advertising and PR. Pepsi also helped us get world-class talent in the film. It didn't hurt when Shaun White and Hannah Teter -- the film's stars and Mountain Dew athletes -- won Olympic gold medals just days before the DVD release. It was also a good investment beyond the box office and DVD revenue. Just as an example, they were able to cut commercial spots from the film footage. If they had just gone out and shot those commercials alone it would have cost almost as much as the budget of the film."
Would you produce more films with brands? "Yes. It comes down to the right property and an understanding and alignment of goals. Currently, our documentary 'Running the Sahara' has two brands supporting it, because the film fits with the core DNA of the brands, and we are looking for one more world class brand to join in."
What do you provide marketers in terms of return on investment? And what are marketers asking to see in terms of results? "When we can combine as many elements of the marketing mix as possible, marketers get the best ROI. That is why we attempt to make our properties into marketing platforms. As for ROI, each company has their own measurements and they don't often share them with the producers, much to our chagrin. But we're proud to say that sponsorships of 'Project Greenlight' have been independently evaluated at five times the investment by the clients' agencies -- primarily due to the fact that we provided value across TV, film, online, PR, direct marketing, sweepstakes/promotions, in-store, events and advertising. And repeat business is often the best indication of results."
There is still some confusion as to what branded entertainment actually is. How do you define it? "If a person defines branded entertainment as product placement, one can see savvy brand marketers and producers looking askance, because that person just doesn't get it. A branded-entertainment property is one that can integrate a brand into the content, or into the messaging around the content, in a way that actually enhances the audience's experience. It is a piece of content and a brand that fit together and can be aligned some mutual goals."
What are some good examples of branded entertainment you've seen recently? "I love what Axe and Unilever have done with 'Game Killers' and 'Mojo Master.' Cutting across TV, online content and video games, these properties are entertaining on their own yet perfectly integrate the brand. It's no surprise that they are dominating the category."
And bad? "Let's just say that hosting a Sundance party does not necessarily equal branded entertainment."
What's on your iPod? "Right now I have multiple episodes of seven different NPR podcasts such as 'The Business,' 'Book Worm' and 'Morning Becomes Eclectic.' I now enjoy traveling again -- for the time being."
What's on your TiVo? "'The Daily Show,' 'The Office,' 'Saturday Night Live,' '60 Minutes.'"
What do you do on your downtime? "On my downtime, I watch documentary films, play Xbox 360, and either snowboard or surf depending on the season and conditions. This year I will attempt to do all in one day."