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Mixing Ads And Comedy Shorts Online For TBS
By Stuart Elliott – New York Times –
IT may not be a bad idea to begin this article the way a comedian might: A funny thing happened to TBS on the way to the upfront.
TBS, the cable channel that bills itself as the home of “very funny” programming, is teaming with the actors Will Arnett and Jason Bateman and DumbDumb, their company that creates humorous Web video clips for brands like Denny’s, Old Navy and Orbit gum.
DumbDumb and TBS will offer marketers a chance to run sponsored comedy videos on the TBS Web site, tbs.com. The marketers will also be able to run the videos in digital domains like their own Web sites, Facebook fan pages and YouTube channels.
Initially, DumbDumb will produce up to six comedic digital shorts, each from three to five minutes long. The sponsored videos will be promoted on TBS during shows like “Conan,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “Family Guy,” as viewers are invited to watch them online.
The videos will also appear on Web sites that are siblings of tbs.com, among them teamcoco.com, the home of the TBS talk show “Conan” with the comedian Conan O’Brien.
The agreement between TBS and DumbDumb is to be announced on Friday, five days before the presentation to be made by TBS in New York that will provide marketers a look at its schedule for the coming season — hence the term “upfront.”
The deal is the first between DumbDumb, which Mr. Arnett and Mr. Bateman founded in 2010, and a media company. And not just any media company: TBS is part of the Turner Broadcasting System unit of Time Warner, which is the world’s third-largest media company, behind Walt Disney and News Corporation.
DumbDumb, though small, has well-known media backers, too. It was formed in partnership with Electus, a multimedia entertainment studio started by the former television executive Ben Silverman. Electus is a division of IAC/InterActiveCorp, led by Barry Diller.
The videos to be created for tbs.com by DumbDumb will, like the videos created for marketers, feature the comedians who perform under the DumbDumb banner.
In addition to Mr. Arnett and Mr. Bateman, who also worked together in the Fox sitcom “Arrested Development,” those performers have included Will Forte, Dave Koechner, Amy Poehler, Andy Richter and Sarah Silverman.
Also, the videos will be in the vein of what is known as branded content or branded entertainment.
In other words, products and brands are woven into the plots so the storytelling is not interrupted by conventional commercials.
Such sponsored stories are becoming increasingly popular as marketers wrestle with the growing ability of consumers to avoid ads.
“We’re helping our advertisers connect with their audiences, and it’s all about making that right connection,” said Donna Speciale, president for Turner entertainment and young adult ad sales, whose bailiwicks, in addition to TBS, include TNT, truTV, Cartoon Network and the Cartoon Network late-night program block called Adult Swim.
The videos to be created by DumbDumb are destined for tbs.com rather than TBS, Ms. Speciale said, because “we wanted to create more of a digital conversation,” reflecting how content that runs online is easily shared by consumers through social media like Facebook and Twitter.
Ms. Speciale traced the origins of the agreement to a night when Steven R. Koonin, president for the Turner Entertainment Networks unit of Turner Broadcasting System, watched an episode of “Conan” during which Mr. Bateman discussed DumbDumb.
TBS and Electus regularly have discussions — for instance, in March TBS ordered a reality competition series, “King of the Nerds,” from Electus — and a meeting was scheduled to talk about a deal with DumbDumb.
DumbDumb specializes in “content marketing,” said Laura Caraccioli-Davis, executive vice president for advertising solutions and marketing at Electus, part of the trend of “brand as publisher, brands trying to produce strong, relevant content” for consumers.
DumbDumb is “creating content that’s bespoke to a brand, and highly shareable,” she added. “Names like Jason Bateman and Will Arnett have huge social followings.” Mr. Bateman has more than 532,000 followers on Twitter.
Mr. Arnett described DumbDumb as “a content company,” adding: “We’re not an advertising agency. We’re not a studio.” He listed an Activision game, Call of Duty, and BlackBerry as among other brands for which DumbDumb has worked.
As for how willingly consumers accept branded content, “everything since the dawn of television has been sponsor-driven,” Mr. Arnett said, noting that in the early days of the medium the sponsors owned the shows.
“Then they started splitting the candy from the medicine and having commercial breaks,” he added, referring to the shift the networks began in the 1960s as sponsored shows gave way to the current model of shows interrupted by spots from multiple marketers.
Asked what prompted him and Mr. Bateman to start DumbDumb, Mr. Arnett replied: “We’re in it for the pageantry. I’m in it for the props and the fake mustaches.”
More seriously, Mr. Arnett said the agreement with TBS was not something they were “actively seeking out.”
Rather, “we kind of came together because we’re all looking for the same thing,” he added, in terms of a desire to “work with advertisers and address their needs.”
“It was a happy accident,” Mr. Arnett said, adding deadpan, “If it’s a disaster, it’ll be their fault.”