Yahoo, GroupM Partner On Original Content

Continuing to ramp up original programming, Yahoo Wednesday announced a deal with media-buying giant WPP's GroupM Entertainment to create branded content for the Web portal's key properties including news, sports, finance and entertainment.

Under the agreement, Yahoo and GroupM Entertainment will work with advertisers to develop a range of short-form video series that integrate brand messaging into the programming. The partnership would lead to original sponsored shows similar to those already running on Yahoo such as Tech Ticker, with Scottrade as exclusive advertiser, and Sports Minute, created for Dunkin' Donuts.

Other original Yahoo series include gossip show "The 411 on omg," sponsored by Starburst; "This Week In Music," launched last month and sponsored by Target; and "Daytime in No Time," the spinoff of Yahoo's popular "Primetime in No Time," offering a video recap of the previous evening's TV shows. JCPenney and Verizon are the respective advertisers for the two programs.

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But new programming emerging from the Yahoo-GroupM partnership is likely to include deeper brand integration as well as ancillary material such as gaming, community features and mobile content to increase user interaction.

"What we're really looking to do to step into the future is have brands sit at the table alongside Yahoo and GroupM as content producers and have that three-legged stool for creating compelling content from the get-go," said Erika Nardini, Yahoo's vice president of packaging, who serves as the company's point person on the GroupM alliance.

Yahoo and GroupM do not have specific advertisers lined up yet for any projects, but several show concepts are already in the works. One targeting moms would be a scripted series portraying key moments in the lives of mothers and featuring well-known actresses.

Another -- a reality-style program -- would offer an insider's view of various high-profile events by putting a Yahoo user, for instance, in the front row of a big fashion show or at a Senate hearing. Still another reality-themed show would focus on 50 people in different jobs in each of the 50 states.

But Nardini noted that Yahoo would not push ahead with production on any program until an advertiser was on board. "What you'll see is that we only greenlight programming where a brand signs on,' she said.

That could be where its agency partner plays a big role. "As we create programming together, GroupM brings a deep and an intimate knowledge of what brands are looking for," said Nardini.

GroupM Entertainment CEO Peter Tortorici will lead the agency's efforts in working with Yahoo."Marketers need big, groundbreaking ideas that engage and delight consumers, and this partnership with Yahoo will enable them to create unique high value relationships," he said in a statement.

The agency's Mindshare Entertainment unit created "In the Motherhood," an online comedy sponsored by Sprint, Unilever's Suave brand and MindShare. The show was picked up by ABC last year and adapted into a situation comedy.

Long-form programming isn't in the plans for the Yahoo-GroupM initiative, however, according to Nardini. Yahoo abandoned ambitious plans to produce TV-type programming with the departure of former ABC executive Lloyd Braun in late 2006. But Jimmy Pitaro, vice president of Yahoo Media, told Varietyearlier this month that the company expects to produce as much as 20% of the video on Yahoo.com in the next year, compared to 10% now.

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