Magna Global Has Its Exec to Head Up Branded Entertainment

Bill Hilary's Hire Signals Holding Companies Are Serious About Content

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LOS ANGELES -- Branded entertainment has encouraged yet another high-level TV executive to jump ship and start producing programming for marketers.
Bill Hilary has been named president of Magna Global Entertainment. His hire is the latest sign that branded entertainment is continuing to earn respect within the industry.

Bill Hilary announced this week that he will step down as president-CEO of BBC America and take the entertainment reins at Interpublic Group of Cos.' media negotiating agency, Magna Global.

What the move means is that while Magna Global Entertainment has long been producing brand-backed programming like "Blow Out" and "The Restaurant," as well as TV movies for Johnson & Johnson, it now officially has a top executive in charge of branded entertainment at the company.

Until now, Frances Page, head of strategy and business affairs, and Sunta Izzicupo, head of prime-time development, ran the company's entertainment efforts, reporting to Bill Cella, chairman-CEO of Magna Global, and Mr. Hilary's new boss.

President of entertainment division

Ms. Page and Ms. Izzicupo now report to Mr. Hilary, whose official title is president of Magna Global Entertainment, a newly created position. He is based out of Magna Global's New York headquarters and will start the job in the next several weeks.

More important for the industry as a whole, however, is that Mr. Hilary's hire is the latest sign that branded entertainment is no longer just the playground of entrepreneurs such as Mark Burnett and Ben Silverman who use the latest production vehicles to get their projects on the screen -- whether it's a cellphone, computer, TV or movie screen. Branded entertainment is continuing to earn the respect of network executives who want to straddle the blurred line of entertainment and marketing. Mr. Hilary joins the likes of former WB Network CEO Jordan Levin, ABC and NBC marketing executive Alan Cohen and former CBS Entertainment President Peter Tortorici into the advertiser-funded content arena.

Mr. Cella said he had been looking for nearly a year for a seasoned executive to run the company's entertainment efforts. He chose Mr. Hilary because the BBC America chief is well-versed in international markets and has had a variety of experience, from sales and marketing to program development and digital media.

"We want to add girth to this division," Mr. Cella said.

Mr. Hilary's resume includes five years at the head of Comedy Central and a stint at production house Granada TV as head of comedy and entertainment.

Understands the business

Mark Rosenthal, chairman-CEO of Interpublic Media, said Mr. Hilary "knows analog and digital, broadcast and cable, and the domestic and international markets. He also has experience in creative as well as the advertising and distribution sides of the business."

His international experience and experience with new media is just what the company was looking for. Magna Global didn't have a choice but to think, well, globally, as it tries to expand its entertainment business.

That's because branded entertainment is no longer a U.S.-centric concept. Europe is becoming more receptive to advertiser-driven programming. Countries like India boast more brands integrated into their TV content than other nations. And even China has gotten in on the act.

At the same time, internet companies such as AOL, Microsoft's MSN, Yahoo, Google and Amazon are starting to seek out more original programming to broadcast on their websites -- outlets that could be perfect for branded entertainment, considering the short films and web series that marketers are already creating for their own dot-coms.

Additionally, agency holding companies are trying to be more one-stop shops for the ad community, offering a variety of services that include branded entertainment and viral marketing. Earlier this year, Interpublic opened a new high-tech showroom for marketers to experiment with the latest digital technology. The Emerging Media Lab is designed to give Interpublic's agencies and clients some tangible examples of new gadgets so they can figure out how to use them in their marketing strategies.

Develop creative ideas first

In his new position, Mr. Hilary will focus on network and cable programming, both scripted and reality, as well as emerging platforms such as video on demand, broadband and the international TV market. He will focus on developing the creative ideas first, then bring in advertisers, producers and distributors. Marketers are increasingly saying they want to create their own content, footing the bill for that, in order to repurpose it on any number of outlets, from cellphones to the web.

But in doing so, it needed someone who could navigate all of those existing and emerging distribution opportunities for clients from Interpublic's divisions such as Universal McCann and Initiative Media, whose client roster includes Sony, AOL, Home Depot and Microsoft.

"At this time, traditional media is being jettisoned into the new world of content creation and consumer choice," Mr. Hilary said in a statement. "In this world brands, content, distribution and advertising converge. There are no boundaries."

President of entertainment division

Magna Global Entertainment, along with various production partners such as Ben Silverman's Reveille, has worked on shows such as "Blow Out," which recently finished its third successful season on Bravo, and "The Restaurant," which started on NBC but migrated to CNBC when its ratings flagged. The ongoing Johnson & Johnson Spotlight Presents movies have been well-watched on TNT, and "Door to Door," starring William H. Macy, won six Emmys.

Magna executives have linked Interpublic's marketer clients American Express, Revlon, Luxottica Group's LensCrafters and Mitsubishi with unscripted TV series, with the advertisers paying for production costs to get the shows off the ground.

More recently, Magna worked on behalf of Brown-Forman's Southern Comfort on a branded-entertainment deal with Bravo's "Celebrity Poker Showdown." The deal spawned the "SoCo Lime Lounge," a branded area where players are interviewed after their elimination from the game. The marketer is embedded in the online marketing and promotion for the show, which launched in late May.

The division also married Initiative client Mall of America with "Instant Beauty Pageant" on the Style network, and J&J, Pfizer, Kellogg and Unilever with the 2005 TV movie "Saving Milly." The telefilm will be rebroadcast on CBS in July.
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