Microsoft, NBCU Back Venture That Turns Ads Into Content

A multi-platform venture backed by NBC Universal and Microsoft that aims to turn advertising into compelling content is scheduled to launch late next month.

Called Firebrand and aimed at Millennials or Generation Y, the programming--er, continuous stream of spots and longer-form promos--will be distributed online, via mobile devices and on a nightly late-night show on the Ion Network.

The venture with a "Best in Commercial Culture" tag was announced during an Advertising Week event Tuesday.

Firebrand CEO John Lack, an early MTV executive, is betting that high-quality spots form a pop culture touchstone today much like music videos did about the time the Millennials were born in the early Reagan years. Lack's vision calls for consumers to become so enamored with, say, iPod or Bud spots that they will share them with friends and develop their own playlists.

Firebrand says more than 33% of Millennials already download ads.

In a sense, the company is attempting to do all year what happens in the days after the Super Bowl, when consumers toggle all over the Internet watching their favorite spots over and over and perhaps forwarding links to friends or offering comments on blogs. It also goes against the notion that DVRs have created a generation of rapid ad-skippers.



The "commercials as content" TV aspect debuts Oct. 22 on Ion, where it will run weeknights at 11 p.m. When not on the network, it will be available 24/7 at; Microsoft's and MSN Mobile; NBCU's; and iTunes.

The Web presence, which could include a library of some 5,000 spots, will offer multiple interactive opportunities where a marketer can offer a promotion--such as 40% off on a pair of Levi's--which a consumer can click-through to. "QVC for the MySpace generation," Lack called it.

A Firebrand promotional DVD offered up a spot with Paris Hilton for Carl's Jr. and one with Jerry Seinfeld and Superman, along with the classic Federal Express spot with the fast talker and the acclaimed BMW Films as well as popular international ads as examples of the type of content it will offer.

With at least the Hilton and FedEx spots available on YouTube, Firebrand will have competition--although it will look to create a more enticing environment and offer superior functionality with search and sharing capabilities.

A sample episode on Ion might include a Top 10 list of currently airing spots, a segment showcasing ads with celebs and lengthy movie trailers.

Lack, who would not detail which marketers have agreed to work with Firebrand, is banking on their eagerness to display their spots in an environment with an engaged viewer. Its promo DVD tells advertisers: "Reach an audience that is choosing to watch your message."

Firebrand's revenue opportunities include charging for placement on its Ion show; asking a fee per ad stream on its Web and mobile outlets; and per-click compensation when it sends a visitor to another site for a promotional offer. The company has set aside resources to acquire classic spots such as the FedEx fast talker and pay for other rights.

Ad sales, which would appear to double as program procurement, is headed by Doug Rohrer, a former executive vice president and general sales manager at MTV Networks.

Lack and other executives are investors along with Microsoft and NBCU--plus Ion, which NBCU holds a stake in, as well as an NBCU-affiliated venture capital arm. Another partner is Nielsen through its business media group, with Firebrand content appearing on

The Firebrand presentation as an official Advertising Week event had a curious aspect. While the venture arguably celebrates the best in advertising, the session gave Lack and his team a chance to promote a for-profit venture.

A call to an Advertising Week representative late Tuesday was not immediately returned.

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