Sponsored content's next level

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Industry veteran Andrew Susman, who spearheaded online advertising for Time Inc.'s Pathfinder, has launched a new company that will take sponsored content to a new level.

New York-based StudioOne Networks, for which Mr. Susman serves as president-CEO, will develop standalone custom content for advertisers, then syndicate it across multiple Web sites.

The model is one that Mr. Susman pursued at Time Inc. New Media, where as director of business development he created more than 35 sponsored content areas for advertisers such as Ford Motor Co., AT&T Corp. and Coca-Cola Co.

"By providing content to users with an ad message inside, we were able to involve the audience with a fair exchange between an advertiser and a consumer," said Mr. Susman.


But he said he realized there are limitations to distributing sponsored content solely on a Web publisher's site or network of sites.

"Traditional online media companies use ad dollars to build their own proprietary franchises," said Mr. Susman. With StudioOne, he wants to work for the advertiser, creating standalone programming and distributing it across multiple online properties.

"We produce content as an independent programmer in the service of advertisers, with no vested interest in a particular distribution network or programming agenda," he added.


StudioOne's roster of executives includes other industry veterans from ad agencies, media and marketing companies.

Bob Blackmore, chairman of StudioOne, previously was exec VP-NBC Television Network; Roland Sharette, Detroit representative working with the automotive industry, was director of J. Walter Thompson USA's digital group; Bob Colvin, West Coast agent, was president of media sales for Softbank Interactive Marketing; and Ted Vos, a principal in the company, was worldwide head of marketing for Polaroid Corp.


So far, StudioOne has consulted CTW Online, the online group for Children's Television Workshop, which has developed custom content such as "Safe Cruising," an online guide to the Internet sponsored by Ford.

"I think StudioOne is a great idea," said Tina Sharkey, group VP-general manager for CTW Online. "As advertisers and marketers realize their own Web sites are not the only answer, we need to develop more innovative approaches [to advertising]."

"The trend is moving toward [advertising] having more of a relevance than just driving people back to a corporate brochure," Ms. Sharkey added.

David Bell, president-CEO of Bozell Worldwide, New York, agrees. "I think they're in the right place at the right time," said Mr. Bell, who is familiar with the sponsored content Mr. Susman developed at Time.

"[Sponsored content] may be one of the last frontiers for inexpensive sponsorships and providing a way for advertisers to own an environment," he said.

Sponsored content can use a variety of formats, but typically the advertiser gets a prominent position at the top of the page for its company name and logo, and often a "sponsored by" credit. Content is usually information related to the advertiser's industry, such as CMPnet's custom content areas on high-tech topics, sponsored by different advertisers.


StudioOne is now working on interactive projects in the automotive and financial categories, although Mr. Susman declined to name clients.

He also declined to give advertising rate information, other than to say pricing varies per project.

The real test for StudioOne, like other start-ups, is to deliver what it promises: a breakthrough ad model that will capture marketers' interest and ad dollars.

Copyright August 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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