Why Michael Kassan Has Focused on Europe and Asia for 10 Years

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Who: Michael Kassan, founder and chairman of Media Link, an entertainment consultancy that has recently helped produce brand-backed reality shows in Europe and Asia, including Queer Eye for the Straight Guy in Italy, with American Express, and Fashion House in India, funded in part by Unilever.
Michael Kassan, chairman of Media Link.

Credentials: Mr. Kassan previously served as president, chief operating officer and vice chairman of Initiative Media Worldwide and its predecessor, Western International Media, as well as president and chief operating officer of Artisan Entertainment. He began his career as a lawyer.

Who are your clients? Multinational brands, cable networks, agency groups, investment banks and private equity firms that include Unilever, American Express, Microsoft, Bear Stearns, Cerberus Capital, Red Bull, FBC (Fact Based Communications), TV Guide, CSTV, Cimarron Group, BNC, Pacific Media and Dennis Publishing.

What are you currently working on? After acquiring the rights from NBC International and developing the show with WPP Group's MindShare Entertainment and Endeavor to lure American Express as its primary sponsor, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy in Italy has now been extended with additional episodes. The series, called Cinque Fantastico, launched in December. Additionally, Mr. Kassan will take Fashion House, co-produced by MindShare, to Latin America and the Middle East, and will also develop the new editions with Unilever, which is using the series in India to promote its Lakme soap brand. Mr. Kassan is also the executive producer of "Red Bull Co-Pilot," a Web-based series viewable at that is produced by the energy drink maker. The project is now entering its second year.

What international territories are becoming interested in brand-backed programming? "Nearly 10 years ago at Western International Media, I began to focus on the European and Asian marketplaces. I still firmly believe that China is an extraordinary market. However, the most exciting territory I am currently working in is India with a middle class of nearly 250 million people, less government restrictions and a desire for programming that has succeeded in the U.S. and Europe."

What's working in those territories? "Quality programming."

What isn't? "Attempting to speak to the consumer in a contrived or formulaic fashion."

Do the international versions of shows attract the same types of advertisers as the originals? "Yes, the fast-moving consumer goods, wireless carriers, automotive manufacturers, beverage companies and lifestyle brands tend to be involved. Most brands seek similar demographics globally, however, the methods and platforms to reach them, as well, as local nuances which must be respected and adjusted for vary from market to market."

Why is that? "Advertisers are looking for the same type of consumer. A program they'd embrace in the U.S. is a program they'd embrace internationally. They'll just do it differently and with a different brand that exists in that region."

What is it like putting these kinds of deals together? "Government regulations and business practices of course vary from country to country, and the view of integrated messaging is of course reliant on local mores. The brand and media managers of the multinationals tend to think independently of their headquarters. That being said, major decisions end up at the center whether the center is in New York, London, Silicon Valley or Shanghai. Often, a major challenge exists in coalescing the local thinking with that of the corporate headquarters. It all about thinking globally but acting locally."

Is there a concern in other countries of turning off viewers with too much product placement? "How much is too much? As in the U.S., the ultimate judge is the commercial marketplace. I advise my clients that balance is key. Viewers in different regions have different thresholds for pain, but to be sure, in each culture there is a point of having gone too far."

What do you do on your downtime? "I forgot. It's been awhile."
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