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Why entertainment is still an untapped frontier for branded content

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For most of the past decade, the $70 billion TV
ad industry has been on a quest to find solutions to the many challenges facing the business. Not long ago, branded content emerged as the buzzy panacea that would reinvigorate creative collaboration between editorial and advertising. Also important, sponsored content would generate new revenue streams as traditional audience consumption continued to fracture.

Consequently, networks and traditional and digital publishers have launched full-service content studios like The New York Times' T Brand Studios, Refinery29's Brand Experiences and CNN's Courageous Studios, creating attention-grabbing, award-winning branded work. Brand marketers are looking to content studios for more nimble creative with a greater control of message and lower entry point on pricing. And with the birth of social media, there's now an even greater need for digestible content with legs.

With these trends emerging, Ad Age Studio 30 sat down with Jenn Cohen, senior vice president of entertainment content partnerships at Turner Ignite, who shared how we got here as an industry and the roots behind Turner Ignite Studios—a new offering from the company that focuses on producing branded content in the entertainment arena.

What have been the larger shifts in the branded entertainment space in your seven years at Turner?

When I first came on, the focus of content marketing was on the creation of co-branded spots and brand integration into show. We primarily worked to fit brands into our show's story. For example, writers would ideate on how to weave a product into a program, but concepts and timing didn't always line up neatly with a marketer's objective. It could be challenging to fully control the brand's message in the production process. Maybe even more important: Social wasn't yet a business.

Have these shifts in the landscape impacted what advertisers are looking for today?

Absolutely. There's been an increased significance of social and digital—as well as OTT and VOD—over the past three or four years. Advertisers are looking for content that is quick, relevant and within their budget, but also content that they have a voice in creating. We're starting to see that marketers are attracted to the tone, feel and look of specific programming, resulting in requests for branded content that aligns with the voice of our networks and reaches the same fans of our shows.

Is that demand what led to the launch of Turner Ignite Studios?

Yes. The widespread and quick adoption of social is an important driver behind the studio. With social media—and the development of our dedicated in-house social agency and optimization tools—we've seen a shift in the industry and increased appetite in developing content that can travel. A one-time spot is no longer as coveted. Context matters more than ever. Brands are putting content in a space with a point of view and an identity.

Courageous, CNN's branded content studio, has been wildly successful at achieving this on the news side of the house since its inception about three years ago. There was a demand for newsworthy brand storytelling that Courageous could fulfill immediately—while respecting the separation of church and state. We've seen the same response with Turner Ignite Sports for our sports fans. It wasn't long after that advertisers asked, "Why can't we have something similar with entertainment?"

We announced the launch of Turner Ignite Studios at the 2018 upfronts to address this white space, and have been busy standing up the studio for our entertainment brands: Adult Swim, TBS, TNT and truTV.

Who will be producing the content on behalf of marketers?

We're building a dedicated team of entertainment creators who will deeply understand the needs of our advertisers and what they're looking to achieve. The staff will be made up of individuals who are well versed in storytelling and producing high-quality creative that reflects the ethos of our networks, while remaining agile for clients—hearing and adapting to their KPIs and producing creative in a timely manner.

At the same time, they will remain in lockstep with our entertainment networks. We've a tremendous amount of respect for the brands our network partners have built. It's critical to uphold that fan connection.

What type of content should we be expecting from the studio down the line?

I think the sky's the limit, but from the beginning, we're going to focus on video, which is in our DNA.

Content will primarily be built social-first, but may include multiple pieces of varying lengths distributed across platforms.

If marketers want to branch out and experiment, we're up for the challenge. This is about generating new ideas and original intellectual property for clients by leveraging the voice of our brands and their audience connection, or through white-label work. We will find the right format to meet an advertiser's objective, and we've the flexibility to take that on as a client-first creative business.

What is the difference between the work Turner Ignite Studios will create and the brand integration, say, "CONAN" does?

Turner's entertainment programs like TBS' "CONAN" and Adult Swim's "Rick and Morty" have been celebrated for their innovative takes on branded content—and for good reason! There is still an incredible demand for content that integrates an advertiser directly into the universe of a specific show, and these brands will continue to create IP-based creative for marketers.

Many advertisers now want even greater access to our brands in a way that incorporates more of their identity. Say an advertiser loves the female empowerment message of the shows on TNT but prefers for its product to be at the forefront. Turner Ignite Studios could produce original IP that reflects that same female-forward spirit while delivering on the goals of the advertiser.

The studio can also tap into our talent pool to create content. For example, Olan Rogers, the creator of the TBS animated comedy "Final Space," could serve as a contributor and produce content on behalf of marketers told through his signature comedic flare or knack for the animated intergalactic.

What makes entertainment a ripe category for this type of branded content?

Entertainment offers something for everyone. And when it's done right, it's inherently inspiring. People react, engage and respond. That's a powerful space for brands to play.

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Turner Ignite is focused on reimagining advertising. Powered by unrivaled branded content services, data-rich ad targeting capabilities, first-of-its kind social optimization tools and global distribution, Turner Ignite empowers brands to build more meaningful connections with consumers and drive return on investment at scale. The business unit is backed by Turner’s wide-scale audience of diverse fans within its portfolio properties, including leading media brands Adult Swim, Boomerang, Cartoon Network, CNN, Great Big Story, HLN, SuperDeluxe, TBS, TNT, truTV, Bleacher Report and Turner Sports' high-profile coverage of the NBA, Major League Baseball, NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, ELEAGUE, UEFA and professional golf. In addition, the company has digital sales partnerships with the NBA, NCAA and PGA.
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