New Company BE to Support Branded Entertainment Expansion

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NEW YORK -- Havas is getting into the TV production business, launching BE next month to create brand-backed programming for cable and broadcast networks.

Guy Champniss, global director of branded entertainment at MPG, Havas’ media buying and planning unit, is leading the new initiative. He joined the agency in March.

Guy Champniss is leading Havas' new branded-entertainment initiative.

Separate unit

The new 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, for example.

"We’ll work closely with them to ensure that broadcasters, producers and viewers get the most out of the entertainment," Mr. Champniss said of BE’s plans to work with Havas’ other agencies.

With the launch of BE, Havas is following several other global media agencies into the burgeoning field of branded entertainment.

Brand-friendly programming

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 the WPP's media oversight unit, and works with all of WPP’s media agencies when crafting entertainment deals involving brands.

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."

Havas' CEO, Phillippe Wahl, told investors and analysts in early November of the holding company's intention to launch a "new kind of advertising-entertainment offering."

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."

Stand-alone production company

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 global marketer that wants a lot of content and strategy in various geographic regions could create a development fund that BE would dip into when costs are incurred.

Mr. Champniss is an ardent believer that marketers need to control the rights and also benefit from the opportunities that having control allows. He envisions BE handling the rights for clients and offering ways for clients to exploit those rights on- and off-air.

MPG's international offices

BE will be based in New York and London, and staff, which Mr. Champniss is hiring, will initially comprise of "producers who are commercially adept, who know how to make a show and get it funded,” he said. Mr. Champniss will continue to play a top role in the new entity.

With its core offering being production, BE will also partner with specialty companies, such as a product placement house, so marketers have access to disciplines that are important, although ancillary to BE’s mission.

Mr. Champniss has already approached several marketers -- whose names he will not divulge, although he said they’re not clients of MPG or of Havas -- who’ve asked BE to pitch them projects.

"We’ll live and die on the strength of our ideas," Mr. Champniss said. "The acid test will be if we take a branded content idea to a network, we have to be able to take the brand out of it and the thing still stands up."
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