Branded Entertainment IP: Whose Story is it?

Melinda Wearne - The Content AgencyBy Melinda, Owner, The Content Agency

There’s an interesting trend happening around the world in regards to branded entertainment. It’s becoming more entertaining!

We know that audiences are seeking out entertainment across multiple devices and that brands are following them. However, in the quest to attract an audience, entertainment professionals are also shifting their attention online. When brands and entertainment meet in this rapidly evolving space, one of the questions emerging is who owns the IP. Whose story is it?

Last week the official trailer for the groundbreaking live-action digital series ‘Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn’ Premiered at Comic-Con. It’s got people buzzing with excitement before it’s worldwide premiere in October. The trailer has generated over 3million views in one week. What’s so exciting? It’s an online series, but no normal online series. According to the LA Times, Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn cost between $5 million and $10 million to produce. Machinima, who in May confirmed that it has closed a $35 million funding round led by YouTube, will initially distribute the series worldwide via it’s YouTube channel.

There’s a sense of excitement amongst content enthusiasts that this series, created to help promote Microsoft’s Halo 4 has the potential to be a blockbuster hit. As a result, it may potentially be a game-changing moment for online video and branded entertainment.

There has been a noticeable movement towards this style of high-end web drama. Last year In the USA, Keifer Sutherland worked with branded content company Digital Broadcasting Group to create a web original production called “The Confession”. Created by and starring Kiefer Sutherland, ‘The Confession’ is a story of redemption featuring a hit man (Kiefer Sutherland), and a priest (John Hurt). It’s a sophisticated, big budget project.

Closer to home, Australia’s Movie Network invested $100,000 into a web drama series called “Event Zero” for their branded content channel. It was released last month and produced by the same production team who made the successful Australian film ‘The Tunnel’. Set amongst the aftermath of a train crash in the middle of Sydney’s CBD, it aims high and delivers filmic production values.

As web-based entertainment becomes more sophisticated, more opportunities for brands opens up. However, as entertainment and brand marketing meet up as content marketing, brands are now faced with a decision; to build up a library of owned content or to find opportunities working with existing content. Both options are possible. Largely it becomes a question of whose story is it?

The Australian made ‘Event Zero’ as well as US based ‘The Confession’ and ‘Forward Unto Dawn’ were made and financed by companies innovating in the space between entertainment and branded content. In this model the producer holds onto the content and owns the IP. Branded content producers DGB chose to self fund “The Confession” rather than their usual brand funded model. They later managed to make it profitable by selling the content across multiple regions and platforms such as i-tunes, Netflix and DVD.

If you are considering owning the story and have ideas of what else can be done with the IP, a good source of inspiration is Red Bull. In February last year Red Bull released a trailer for their snowboarding film The Art of Flight produced for a rumoured $2 million. More than half a million people watched it within the first three days and it now has close than 10 million views. Red Bull reacted to the unexpected demand and shaped a rollout strategy. They hosted a world tour of the film following its release and made it possible to download an HD copy from iTunes for $9.99. It is also possible now to pay to download it from Youtube.  In addition to the film, in 2011 they also signed a partnership deal with NBC, developed reality-TV, and became a partner in YouTube’s original content strategy. At Red Bull, content isn’t considered a loss leader; rather its media arm is expected to turn a profit.

At the other end of the scale, brands are able to associate themselves with existing online entertainment by seeking out relevant and established video content with loyal audiences and then exploring pre rolls and sponsorship opportunities. Movie network sold overlays and pre rolls around ‘Event Zero’ on their Youtube channel and are carrying banners across the website for the series.

Another successful example in Australia is the online cars show “Mighty Car Mods” which teaches its audience how to modify their cars. Brands have helped fund the production through sponsorship opportunities, yet they are not offered the opportunity to alter the tone or direction of the show.

Content marketing is a rapidly evolving space and as high quality entertainment carves out a territory online, the funding model is still up for grabs.  There are plenty of opportunities for brands to get involved in top quality video entertainment that attracts loyal audiences. Developing a content strategy that takes into account what story to tell and who will own the copyright is a good place to start.

This is the second in the blog series by Melinda Wearne from The Content Agency, that looks at the best in online branded content from around the world.


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