Felix Gillette of BusinessWeek is responsible for one of the best features on a content creator that I’ve read in a while.
Ben Silverman who helped create “The Biggest Loser” and “The Office” is a Hollywood golden boy who also understands Web culture and how to bring brands into the action. His new production company, Electrus, is busy pitching, producing and working to integrate brand stories into “the story.”
Here’s one example of a brand-sponsored Electrus show that made it to TV:
“I keep talking about how convergence is no longer just a technology term,” says Silverman. “It’s the convergence of all business. Being at the consumer electronics show this past week, it was the dynamic not just of the convergence of technology, advertising, and content. It’s the convergence of fashion as media, of sports as business, of retail as distribution, of on-line as video, of politics as entertainment.”
“There is so much opportunity now to bring everybody to the table,” Silverman says. “To be an includer, not a hater.”
Yet, not everyone is convinced. Television executives in Los Angeles and New York told Gillette they doubt that Electus can pull off brand-inspired TV series on major networks.
People in the business describe it as a tempting idea in theory that’s difficult to make work in practice. Lauren Zalaznick, the NBC Universal president of women and lifestyle entertainment networks, and a pioneer in the use of product placement, says that ultimately networks will go with the best concepts, regardless of how they are financed.
In other words, quality matters. Richie Riches have been ponying up to Hollywood as long as there has been a Hollywood, thinking that they will finance a picture and make a killing. But selling oil, or machine parts or crackers isn’t the same as selling ideas that speak to people in emotional terms.
Gillette got the brand manager’s point of view for his article too:
David Tapscott, a brand director for Smirnoff, says a Smirnoff representative sat in on every minute of every taping of “Master of the Mix,” and gave notes and feedback throughout the development, casting, shooting, and editing of the show. Most crucially, according to Tapscott, Smirnoff owned final sign-off. If they didn’t like something–say, the language a character used–they could cut it. That level of control, says Tapscott, is the “magic” of the Electus model “vs. an integration opportunity where you sit and pray that the producers represent your brand the way you want it to be.”
Which explains the skepticism from Hollywood insiders. They doubt, as do I, the ability to make a hit show when the producer is making the majority of the decisions about the creative product. At the same time, I’m a believer in deep brand integration.
One point of view that’s not captured in the BusinessWeek piece is the ad agency’s perspective. Ad agencies are the brand stewards in this mix and I guarantee you the stewards don’t want to be left on the sideline while brand managers and Hollywood production companies make deals and make shows. They want to concept the shows, write the scripts and hire the production companies. At least, that’s what I want.