Guy Champniss, global director-branded entertainment at MPG, Havas' media buying and planning unit, is leading the initiative. The company will operate as a separate unit of Havas, with the goal of serving as a "conventional internationally oriented production company, creating content for networks and channels," said Mr. Champniss, who has previously served as a TV producer at well-known U.K. production companies including Celador Productions, BBC Entertainment and Carlton Television.
BE will draw on resources from MPG, Euro RSCG Worldwide and Arnold but will have its own management team, as well as staff in key MPG markets such as the U.S., France, Spain and Portugal.
With the launch of BE, Havas is following several other global media agencies into the burgeoning field. In 2004, veteran network executive and TV show producer Peter Tortorici joined the WPP media agency MindShare to create brand-friendly programming. As WPP's branded-entertainment ambitions have grown, so has Mr. Tortorici's purview-today, he is president of Group M Entertainment, an arm of WPP's media-oversight unit.
Also in 2004, Omnicom Group launched Full Circle Entertainment, a separate company run by Robert Reisenberg, formerly of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Magna Global Entertainment unit, to develop and produce shows that also provide Omnicom clients a marketing platform.
"Clients are dictating this," said Michael Kassan, a media consultant who heads MediaLink in Los Angeles. "They want the expertise."
But in Mr. Champniss' opinion, branded-entertainment content can stand some improvement. "People often look at branded entertainment like it's akin to marrying your cousin. It's technically legal, but everyone winces when they see it. I don't think it needs to be like that."
BE's goal is to produce most of its material as a stand-alone company, although initially it will likely function as an executive producer in conjunction with a partner. BE will pitch and set up projects at networks before going into production on a concept.
"Every show that is produced will have a home," Mr. Champniss said. "We will not use a brand's money to produce a program and then hawk it for the lowest price necessary in order to find a home for it."
Financing for shows would come in several ways, Mr. Champniss said. BE may take a retainer in return for scouting out first-look deals for brands. If an idea is sold, BE would create a commission and production-fee structure, and serve as an executive producer. A large marketer that wants a lot of content and strategy in various regions could create a development fund.
Mr. Champniss has already approached several marketers-whose names he will not divulge, although he said they're not clients of MPG or Havas-who have asked BE to pitch them projects.