Michael Davies to Run Firm as New York Production Company

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LOS ANGELES -- Former Davie-Brown Entertainment president Tera Hanks and film producer Chris Moore have left Embassy Row, the branded entertainment shop the two co-founded with "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" producer Michael Davies. The company was launched less than a year ago.
Former Davie-Brown Entertainment president Tera Hanks is one of two founding partners who have left Embassy Row.

Embassy Row will continue to operate as a television production entity for Mr. Davies, based in New York. The company has not been completely closed, as reported in the original story that appeared in the Nov. 30 edition of Madison & Vine.

Surprise departures

Still, the departure of Ms. Hanks and Mr. Moore comes as a surprise, considering that when it was founded, Embassy Row’s principals were expected to leverage their strong relationships in the entertainment industry and on Madison Avenue to produce film, television and Internet projects for advertisers.

However, during its first year of operation, Embassy Row has only been able to secure Pepsi-Cola Co. as a client, for which it produced the full-length snowboarding documentary, "First Descent," for Mountain Dew, that bows in December, and the Web reality series, "100 Concerts in 100 Days," that ran on the Pepsi Smash section of Yahoo! Music this summer.

It also had a hand in producing the documentary series "Iconoclasts" for the Sundance Channel, Conde Nast and Grey Goose Entertainment, and six-segment series "My Kind of Town" for ABC.

Pepsi's entertainment efforts

Although Embassy Row exclusively handled Pepsi’s entertainment efforts, the soft drink giant’s activity in the branded-entertainment space simply wasn’t enough to cover the production entity’s overhead -- leading, in part, to the departure of Ms. Hanks, Mr. Moore and the closure of Embassy Row’s Santa Monica office. During that period, Pepsi also changed chief marketing officers, which may not have helped the relationship between the two companies.

Pepsi is represented by Omnicom Group’s entertainment marketing agency Davie-Brown for product placement deals.

Ms. Hanks, who had served as Embassy Row’s president-CEO, has since begun talking with other firms, including Hollywood talent agency Endeavor. She had developed a relationship with Pepsi while at Davie-Brown, and developed "Pepsi’s Play for a Billion" with Mr. Davies. She also worked with such clients as Hewlett-Packard, BMW, NFL and Reebok.

Mr. Moore plans new company

Mr. Moore will continue to produce and direct films through his own yet-to-be-named entity. His credits include producing the films "Good Will Hunting" and the "American Pie" franchise, as well as executive producing the reality TV series "Project Greenlight." He is set to direct the thriller "Race with the Devil" for Regency Enterprises.

Embassy Row becomes Mr. Moore’s second attempt at forming a company to produce brand-backed programming. He had previously co-founded LivePlanet together with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck to develop projects whose budgets could be offset by marketers. "Project Greenlight" and "Push, Nevada" were two TV series that resulted from that effort.

Meanwhile, Mr. Davies, who is currently producing ABC’s reality series "Wife Swap" and continues as executive producer on "Millionaire," will continue to produce TV shows and specials under the Embassy Row banner. His previous production company, Diplomatic, and its first-look deal with ABC Entertainment, was folded into Embassy Row upon its formation.

No comment

Mr. Moore declined to comment. Mr. Davies and Ms. Hanks could not be reached.

Embassy Row’s struggles will likely serve as a case study for others active in producing branded entertainment.

For one, it signals that companies need multiple marketers on board to keep them operating year-round. Brands are devoting only enough dollars to produce just one or two major brand-backed projects -- a film, TV show, concert tour, video game -- per year, if that. The rest of their efforts are still going toward traditional product placement or a related tie-in on the Internet, which demand limited resources and are handled by product placement shops or a company’s media agency.

It suggests that companies should be wary of just how secure their relationship with a marketer might be. Companies constantly replace their chief marketing execs without warning -- individuals who may want to put their own stamp on things and end deals already in place.

And it stresses the fact that few players in the branded-entertainment space are getting rich from producing projects for marketers. Mark Burnett may be grabbing headlines with the millions of dollars he has charged advertisers to appear in shows like "The Apprentice," but he’s proved an exception to how other producers are conducting business with Madison Avenue.
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