BOBing for eyeballs

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Finally, creatives who don't work at Fallon on BMW might be able to truthfully account for time spent in the office working on their screenplays. Starting in March, marketers and agencies that want to follow BMW into the world of artfully branded short films won't have to rely on the web for distribution. They can ask BOB to do it. More formally known as Brief Original Broadcasts, BOB is a 24-7 digital cable station, based in Littleton, Colo., that will be devoted to presenting independently produced short films (less than eight minutes) interspersed with sponsored messages as subtle as the BMW films starring Clive Owen as the ultra-cool driver with excellent collision coverage. BOB co-founder and president Olivier Katz says the station will be available on an as yet unidentified string of cable and satellite systems reaching at least 12 million homes when it launches March 3.

If all goes according to plan, the 18-34 target demo will have a tough time distinguishing between content and advertising. BOB is putting the word out in the indie film community that it's looking for short films that can be adopted by a marketer, which will entitle the company to slap its logo in a corner, something BOB calls BrandSlates. Or they can commission a BrandClip, which Katz describes as "corporately produced emotional branding entertainment." As of mid-November, Katz claimed to be in advanced discussion with more than a dozen brands, but the first to commit to BOB as a charter sponsor is Anheuser-Busch, which signed up as the exclusive sponsor for the entire alcoholic beverage category in a multi-year, multi-million dollar deal. In fact, "Greg," a Budweiser spot built around a best man's inappropriate wedding toast (see p. 22) is actually a cut from Bud's first BrandClip.

Katz expects that many advertisers will follow the A-B model and air 30-second cuts from their BrandClips as spots. But he's skeptical that many conventionally conceived, sales-oriented spots can simply be expanded into a BrandClip that will pass muster with the BOB College, a committee of 12 demographically correct and ethnically diverse men and women with indie film ties, who will select the programming and police the BrandClips copy for excessive commerce. BOB requires that marketers submit their scripts to the College, which expects them to be "culturally incisive and intellectually stimulating," yet "politically and socially correct," according to a BOB handout. The committee was recruited by Cosmo Street, the post house where Katz's brother, known simply as Katz, is an editor. Cosmo is also providing BOB with creative services and bicoastal offices. Olivier Katz himself was one of South Park's original executive producers, as well as a partner/producer at production companies Celluloid and Visitor and a founding partner at Chicago ad boutique Fusion Idea Lab. Kathy Schofield, BOB co-founder and SVP-marketing, was a client of both Celluloid and Visitor when she was group director of marketing and creative services at Starz Encore. Before Starz, Schofield held a similar position at Primestar, where her boss was president Dan O'Brien. He was CEO of a cable broadband provider, High Speed Access, when Katz and Schofield sought his advice on the cable industry. O'Brien liked the idea so much, he's joined BOB as CEO.

BOB will pump out more programming per hour than any program guide can accommodate - "viewers will just tune in to watch some BOB," says Katz - but TV technology will be an ally. If a program develops traction, viewers can download it with video-on-demand. Spot production converges with viral marketing, you might say. "The Simpsons began within The Tracey Ullman Show and South Park evolved from a short, Jesus vs. Santa Claus," notes Katz.

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