Net and cellphones
The country's largest brewer is launching its own in-house film and TV production company that will make humorous shorts and sitcom-type programs to be broadcast over the internet and to cellphones, according to four people familiar with the matter, and could branch into full-length films.
While A-B has dabbled in content before -- particularly in sports TV, where its Bud Productions division recently produced National Football League preseason games for the St. Louis Rams -- this initiative is believed to be the brewer's most ambitious by far. Funding will likely be drawn from its $1.56 billion marketing budget.
Jim Schumacher moves
Earlier this summer, A-B pulled VP-Creative Development Jim Schumacher -- its top in-house creative -- out of the advertising department and into the new production group. "The fact that Schu is leading this means they're serious about it," said one person familiar with his new assignment. "They wouldn't be wasting his time otherwise."
A-B has also assigned Michael Gianino, senior director-branded entertainment, to a unit devoted to producing online content. Mr. Gianino previously worked on A-B's product-placement deal for New Line Cinema's "Wedding Crashers," starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, which was the brewer's first Hollywood venture in 14 years. Since then, it's been increasingly star-struck, sponsoring Mr. Vaughn's comedy tour and tapping Hollywood heartthrob George Clooney for voice-overs on Budweiser Select spots.
At press time, it was unclear whether Messrs. Schumacher and Gianino are working together or on separate content-creation units.
Asked about the division and the assignments, an A-B spokesman said: "We're always looking for new ways to reach beer drinkers through innovative means of communications, but it's our practice to not comment on rumors and speculation."
By investing heavily in producing its own content, $15.5 billion A-B is following closely in the footsteps of other megamarketers. Last winter, PepsiCo produced the snowboarding documentary "First Descent" through its Mountain Dew Films unit. And Starbucks Corp., which last year partnered with Lions Gate Films to market "Akeelah and the Bee," intends to co-produce more features with Hollywood studios.
Marketers' march into content creation has not gone unnoticed by the $5 billion-plus production industry. "Too many marketers view production as a commodity, when the expertise to do it well isn't easily learned," said Matt Miller, president-CEO of the Association of Independent Commercial Producers. "Agencies and marketers have always run into limitation when it comes to the creative product. The expertise and talent suffers."
A-B to date has dabbled with one-offs, such as "Bud TV," an online production it promoted with a commercial during February's Super Bowl. Now it appears to be gearing up to produce a steady stream of original content.
"They've made it clear that they think the future is online, and I think we're going to see a lot of short films and sitcom-type stuff," said California-based A-B distributor Mike Fox. "A lot of us wholesalers have been pushing for them to do more entertainment stuff for awhile."
Mr. Fox said distributors have also been pushing A-B to use its theme parks, including Sea World and Busch Gardens, to host and produce concert events that could be powerful marketing tools.
A-B rivals, however, said they saw the potential for the entertainment business to wind up distracting A-B from selling beer, or so they hoped.
"Making movies is always a great idea for an alcohol company," said Don Faust Jr., a Miller and Coors distributor based in Houston. "Just look how great it was for the Bronfmans."