Rosenthal will head digital prod'n unit

In a first for a Hollywood major, Warner Bros. TV is setting up a digital production venture, dubbed Studio 2.0, to create original live-action and animated shortform programming for broadband and wireless devices.

Warner has tapped producer and advertising exec Rich Rosenthal to head the unit. Given the key role Madison Avenue will play in this new venture, he will be based in New York but will work regularly with a small staff on the West Coast and other contributing WB units.

Warner TV Group exec veep Craig Hunegs will oversee the venture, which group prexy Bruce Rosenblum will unveil today.

Rosenblum told Daily Variety on Friday that the new division is “a natural extension of our core production business.” But, he added, the company doesn’t want merely to parlay existing “linear” shows onto new-media platforms but to “think in digital terms.”

Until now, most of the broadcast networks and studios have focused on repurposing their existing TV material for broadband and wireless exposure; it’s been left to sassy cablers like MTV or small outfits, many flying under the radar of Hollywood, to try their hand at original digital material.

No one has as yet become rich at this game.

Warner Bros. obviously believes there will be money in the digital domain at some point, though Rosenblum hit a note of caution as to the timing.

“We’re at the embryonic stage,” he said, “but we definitely wanted to get our flag planted — and we’re confident there is money to be made. There’s just no specific timeframe on that as yet.”

Hunegs told Daily Variety that there are as yet “no templates” and “no single business model” for what the company is undertaking in this area but that it’s clearly a growth area for Warners and the content biz in general.

Hunegs explained that the new unit would rely both on the TV group’s established talent as well as up-and-coming creators from outside to produce content of varying styles and lengths — from multiple-episode series to one-offs, both live action and animation.

Crucially, Rosenthal will focus on actively aligning Studio 2.0 with advertisers seeking early involvement with original programming.

“This is a new consumer experience — what’s on the computer screen or cell phones or other gizmos — and the content will have a different feel and look,” Rosenblum said in addressing the issue of advertiser involvement.

“This is not about a performer holding a can of soda, or about ad agencies dictating creative content,” Hunegs added. “It’s more about advertisers identifying programming they want to be associated with, and aligning their message with appropriate creative product.”

But apparently some lines will be blurred in the branding. Product could resemble the BMW clips that aired on the Web a few years ago — a hybrid format, not just an ad spot, but not quite a movie either. Or, an advertiser may, as in the old days of TV, exclusively “present” a clip, whose content harmonizes with a product being advertised in some kind of adjacency.

In any case, once the content is created, Studio 2.0 will look to license the programming to online sites, portals and wireless providers in collaboration with the recently formed Warner Bros. Digital Distribution division under prexy Simon Kenny.

“What has become eminently clear is that our ad partners in our traditional TV businesses are anxious to work in collaboration with the creative community to develop original digital content,” Rosenblum said.

The company’s “special relationship” with sibling AOL will apparently not prohibit the new unit from doing deals with other portals.

There was no word on what the inaugural project for the unit will be or how long it would take to come up with material. Outside sources pointed out that the lead time is much shorter than in traditional linear TV and that the costs of production are obviously much lower. (A two- to three-minute clip can cost as little as $10,000, especially if, as is usual, no union rules apply.)

There were no details as to how much money the conglom is setting aside to launch the new unit, but an outsider familiar with digital firms said it could be done by a Hollywood studio for “just a few million a year.”

Rosenthal, who was most recently head of production and exec VP at ad agency Y&R, brings a breadth of advertising experience to the table.

Prior to his 10-year Y&R stint, he was a VP at J. Walter Thompson and a producer at Saatchi & Saatchi. On his shelf are a row of Clios, Addys and Effies as well as several Emmy noms.

Since the advertising relationship to digital content is so crucial at this stage of new-media development, another TW’s cross-divisional client partnerships arm, Time Warner Global Marketing, will be involved in this initiative.

“He is a talented, creative exec who has great relationships in the advertising and creative communities,” said John Partilla, president of Time Warner Global Marketing.

Rosenthal began his career as a production coordinator at Rick Levine Prods. and has also served as a freelance producer, production coordinator and location manager.

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