Traditional Hollywood players have struggled to crack the code when it comes to developing wholly original Web content. Count Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun as exceptions to that.
The digital division of the duo’s BermanBraun banner has hit two home runs on the Web in as many years: the celeb-oriented news site Wonderwall, launched last year, followed in April by the femme lifestyle and fashion vehicle Glo. The duo’s success in designing sites that attract distinct demos has yielded a megabucks partnership with ad giant Starcom Mediavest, whose clients include big spenders like Coca-Cola, Walmart, Procter & Gamble, Samsung and Kraft Foods.
The four-year pact unveiled Wednesday will give Starcom clients a first-look opportunity to buy space and integrate their products with digital content developed by BermanBraun. Deal, which kicks in Jan. 1, also calls for BermanBraun to work with Starcom’s LiquidThread content integration unit to develop new ad-supported content vehicles for a range of digital platforms. Financial details were not disclosed, but it’s expected that Starcom clients will commit upwards of $100 million to BermanBraun sites.
BermanBraun already had a close working relationship with Starcom execs, notably LiquidThread topper Brian Terkelsen, which spurred the sides to ink a formal partnership agreement. But the deal is nonexclusive, allowing BermanBraun to cast a wide net in recruiting sponsors and promo partners to its sites.
Wonderwall and Glo are done in partnership with MSN, which gave them a big boost in getting immediate sampling, but BermanBraun is also a free agent when it comes to distrib partners. It has a politics-oriented site in the works with MSNBC and a Latino-centric site in development with an undisclosed partner. (Full disclosure: BermanBraun is working with Variety on a prospective Web venture.)
The arrangement with Starcom gives BermanBraun the comfort of knowing that it will have a direct pipeline to blue-chip advertisers. But just as important, it will have access to Starcom and LiquidThread’s inside info on the cutting edge of marketing campaigns, pop culture trends, demographic shifts and a host of other valuable R&D, Braun said.
“This puts us in business with one of the premier advertising agencies in the world and some of the most progressive, iconic brands in the world,” Braun told Daily Variety. “It’s going to give us an opportunity to marry the brands and content we create at BermanBraun with these brands at the earliest possible point. We’ll be able to create advertising solutions that are organic and powerful in delivering (sponsor) messages in a unique and seamless way with our content.”
The approach envisioned under the alliance with LiquidThread will allow BermanBraun to develop properties with specific advertisers in mind from the start, in marked contrast to how ad sales are usually conducted.
“It’s so important because it allows us to work with them from the top down,” Braun said. “We can get to know the DNA of the product, and that will allow us to be far more creative and efficient in designing (ad) programs for them.”
BermanBraun’s success on the digital front is a particularly sweet victory for the company’s partners given how hard it has been for Hollywood’s majors to gain traction with original Web ventures. BermanBraun was formed in 2007 just as the partners were coming off rocky work experiences. Berman, who made her mark as a producer and prexy of entertainment at Fox Broadcasting, had just left Paramount Pictures after a difficult two-year tenure. Braun had spent about the same time as head of Yahoo Media, where the former ABC and Brillstein-Grey Entertainment exec had hoped to extend the Net giant into more traditional TV series-type video offerings.
Yahoo was a tough slog for Braun, but he learned a great deal about the players and business models for the Web. Berman brought her keen producer’s eye to developing sites and content that would translate well to the Web and give Wonderwall and Glo enviable numbers in the Internet’s all-important “time spent” metric.
Wonderwall, which bowed in February 2009, has averaged about 12.4 million unique users a month so far this year. Glo has averaged 5.2 million unique users a month. Glo recently cut an e-commerce partnership deal with luxury brand Web retailer Gilt that effectively put Braun back in business with his former right hand at ABC, Susan Lyne, now CEO of Gilt Groupe.
BermanBraun remains a player in traditional TV production — it landed a new drama, “The Cape,” on NBC for the coming season — but has definitely made a bigger splash so far with its digital endeavors. And the company prides itself on doing virtually all of its digital production inhouse with a lean staff of about 50, which includes a team of seven ad sales execs who work with MSN on setting up deals for Wonderwall and Glo.