09/29/2015 12:01 pm ET Updated Sep 29, 2016

Are Hollywood directors moving to Madison Ave?

By Marcus Peterzell, EVP Entertainment, Ketchum

It's no breaking news that the big studios are circling the wagons and focusing on franchise films, sequels and safe bet "A" list talent to hedge their bets in the competitive theatrical space. This has made it tough on the scores of directors who are not attached to the big tent poles as even the smaller studios are getting more selective on greenlighting projects.  So while some A&B list directors are not ready to start shilling for brands and helming thirty second spots, they are opening their doors to brands that are funding scripted content and documentary films. This is not a big headline of course, as early as 2001 many big names in cinema directed the BMW series "The Hire", but in the last year the trend has been growing.

At Ketchum, we have engaged a host of great talent including Oscar winner James Moll, and we have seen other similar branded work by directors such as Drake Doremus and Spike Jonze. The interesting piece is although disclosure is required that the films are brand funded, are consumers really noticing? Or a better question, do they care? After all a great film, is a great film, and who cares if a studio or corporation wrote the check? Yes the brand probably has some integration in it (but not always the case), but so do most major studio films, so, does it matter? I would say a definitive no, Filmmakers need to creatively find funding for their work and if the studio coffers are being closely guarded, what's wrong with having Madison Ave open their checkbooks and in turn generate some compelling content for the world to see?

Let's look at the distribution landscape and how that plays into the equation. For the most part brands are only funding these films if they can get robust distribution (noting here that some brands are happy to just have them live on their owned channels but we don't see the trend growing). With the Premium Digital distribution war we are seeing Netflix, Hulu, Vimeo, YouTube and Amazon all clamoring for "exclusive" long-form content so this provides premium outlets for the branded films and series, and in some cases at no cost to the brand if the content is "premium" enough. In some cases, revenue is actually flowing back to the when has that ever happened?

So are brands going to become the next mini-studios following the trend that Red Bull started in the action sports video arena? Well yes and no, the films that brands commission are usually tied to a specific product launch or sponsorship activation, so there is no consistency on the need to produce content at this level, unless a brand wants to make a long-term commitment to long-form programming it's going to be a bit scattered. But while studios tend to program around tent pole holidays the brands can fill that void with "always on" entertainment. So this affords agencies with a robust brand roster a great opportunity to manage the brand/director relationships, and gives Hollywood directors a funding source to do what they do best, tell a great story's that we can all cheers to that.

About the Author

Marcus Peterzell is moderating the Advertising Week panel "The Evolution of Branded Content" Panel on Thursday, October 1st at 4 PM at the Hard Rock Café featuring Oscar Nominated Director Morgan Spurlock