The MSN, Reveille Partnership Lives On

Portal and Production Company Pitch Buyers Five New Web Shows

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NEW YORK -- MSN is tweaking how it goes to market with its fall roster of original content, which it has created with Reveille, the production company Ben Silverman founded before leaving to head NBC's entertainment division.

MSN is trying to break up sponsorship opportunities for online content into smaller chunks to accommodate smaller interactive budgets as well as larger TV ones.

The portal's relationship with Reveille will "continue unchanged," said Gayle Troberman, general manager of branded entertainment at MSN, and both companies have been making the rounds to agencies to pitch ideas for five new original programs.

Howard Owens, co-head of domestic TV and head of digital at Reveille, pointed out that the company recently re-upped its deal with MSN and noted that while Mr. Silverman is no longer running the production company, he does retain a stake in it.

"From a macro picture, Ben's relationship with MSN and management position at NBC could lead to more dealings between MSN the portal and NBC the content generator," he said, although he noted that was purely speculation at this point.

New sponsorship opportunities
In the past, MSN has offered standard inventory or major, integrated, custom-built programs. This time around it's trying to break up sponsorship opportunities into smaller chunks to accommodate smaller interactive budgets as well as larger TV ones -- since they're not one and the same at most media agencies.

"The traditional media-buying models don't make it easy," Ms. Troberman said. "We want to maximize reach, which advertisers are used to buying, but also offer a level of specific brand engagement."

The plan is to offer standard video-ad inventory -- pre-rolls and bumpers -- for reach but to also create three interactive experiences that surround a show that can each be sold to a different advertiser in what likely will be a six-figure deal. The pricing will be three-tiered, so should an advertiser wish to own the entire video program, it can buy all three elements; should it want one or two of the elements, it can buy at lower prices.

While MSN has been aggressive in producing video content, so have advertisers themselves. A portal can offer built-in reach, but marketers that sponsor MSN content don't own the rights to it and can't use it in other ways, such as running it on their own websites. The model is akin to a straight media buy on any other media property.

Gayle Troberman, general manager of branded entertainment, MSN

Accessible to more brands
"Consistently we've heard, 'We love the concept [of custom-built programs]; how can we shortcut that?'" Ms. Troberman said. "We're trying to make the programming accessible to more brands at lower price points and faster."

A program called "Nanny Connie," for example, includes video of the 6-foot-3-inch nanny-to-the-stars doling out advice on caring for babies, with interactive features that allow moms to test their knowledge against Nanny Connie's or ask her specific parenting questions. Another program, "Office Workout," intends to take advantage of all the video people watch at work. Mr. Owens calls it "Biggest Loser" (another Reveille TV show) for the office. There's video of office workout challenges, and other interactive features include walk-throughs of office workouts and a calorie-counting virtual lunch box.

"Chef to the Rescue" with Cat Cora also returns; last year it was sponsored by Kraft. Ms. Troberman said Kraft had not yet signed on as a sponsor for season two but that MSN was in discussions with the marketer.

An incubator for TV fare
In the past, Reveille and MSN have suggested the partnership could serve as something of an incubator for TV programming. Should a program catch fire online, it could be transported to the other screen.

Mr. Owens likened it to a successful book or TV show that becomes a movie, or a movement that becomes a film. But "our first priority is programming distinct to the internet—shorter-form, interactive content; infotainment that provides a takeaway," Mr. Owens said. He added, "A lot of the stuff we're doing is stuff you wouldn't necessarily do for TV."
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