Brand and content integration has come full circle since the days of “Texaco Star Theater,” and the latest example is an advertiser-driven unit of NBC Universal. The new NBC Universal Digital Studio has partnered with Omnicom Media Group Digital to pair brands with content created with the advertisers in mind from the get-go. Advertisers including Acura, Intel, Microsoft, and UPS are on board.
“It’s really going to be a co-developed process,” said OMG Digital CEO Matt Spiegel, explaining brand integration will go way beyond product placement. Rather than weaving a brand into a pre-determined storyline, “the idea here is to have brands in the storyline be the lead.”
The new full-service digital unit will allow advertisers to work with writers, producers, and talent, in addition to providing production services. Perhaps more marketing-centric, it also will offer measurement and analytics services.
Early examples of episodic programs designed with brands in mind include a live-action and animated sci-fi show called “Gemini Division.” The show has been developed in conjunction with Acura TSX, Intel, Microsoft, and UPS. Another in pre-production called “Woke Up Dead” involves a college kid who contracts zombie-like symptoms. OMG Digital wasn’t involved with either of those projects, according to Spiegel.
NBCU plans to distribute brand-centric content from the new unit across its digital properties. A likely place for the programs is Hulu, a distributed platform in itself. The NBCU and News Corp.-owned entity distributes video programming from a variety of content providers across a broad online network including AOL, MSN, News Corp.’s MySpace, and Yahoo.
“A good distribution vehicle is absolutely a factor,” said Spiegel, noting NBCU’s ability to distribute programming across several properties, both online and on-air.
Along with OMG Digital, NBC Universal Digital Studio is partnering with Davie Brown Entertainment and OMG Entertainment and Sports, both Omnicom firms. Several departments within OMG Digital will be involved with the new NBCU division, Spiegel said.
The new operation itself involves execs with histories at NBC Universal and OMG Digital. Cameron Death, hired as NBC Digital Entertainment VP of digital content last year, will lead as VP NBC Universal Digital Studio. Suhaila Suhimi, previously East Coast digital director at OMG Digital, will serve as director of brand strategy. And former NBC Universal digital producer Nichol DeGruccio will fill the executive producer, digital production role.
This isn’t the first time a big name studio has gone after digital marketing dollars by working directly with brands. Last September Sony Pictures Entertainment formed a full-service interactive agency to win outside clients for digital marketing services such as Web site and mobile development, customer relationship management, digital marketing strategy, and Web research. The unit paired Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment’s marketing and production team with its digital production and animation studio Imageworks.