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Variety joins Huffington Post, New York Times in launching branded content studio

Penske Media property Variety is spearheading the creation of a branded content studio in service to its parent company?s many properties, and brands such as Mercedes-Benz and Delta Air Lines are already on board.

The announcement makes Variety one of the first entertainment-oriented publications to open a branded content studio, a trend traced back to efforts from publications such as the Huffington Post?s HuffPost Partner Studio in collaboration with AOL, and the New York Times? T Brand Studio.

?Branded content studios exists because consumers are increasingly only engaging with brand messaging that has value for them,? said James McNally, director of digital strategy at TDT, New York. ?For media organizations to attract ad dollars, they need to offer ad vehicles that give the viewer comparable value to their non-advertising content?i.e. the stuff that got those viewers' eyeballs to their website in the first place. 

?Creating content that is compelling to the viewer while also pushing a brand message is far more involved than simply slotting creative into IAB ad slots; it requires dedicated teams to leverage creative, tech, and marketing expertise, and to account manage the complexities of the native advertising conception and sales process.?

Branded content studio
The newly-established production vehicle will be led by chief marketing officer Dea Lawrence and executive editor Steven Gaydos, who directs Variety's industry-leading "Focus" editorial features operation. The retention of key editorial talent?who are uniquely familiar with the Variety audience?on branded efforts will go a long way towards the creation of content that both resonates with readers and hews to a certain standard of quality.

Among the studios inaugural projects are a branded content video cross platform program for Amazon Studios, Films Of Our Time, offering awards season voters a deeper look at two of 2016's most acclaimed movies. The video series positions Manchester By the Sea as a new American classic in the tradition of Oscar Best Picture winners Marty, Ordinary People, and American Beauty.

For the movie 'Loving" Focus Features worked with The Variety Content Studio to create 'The Marriage that Changed the World' a 5-part series of articles now running both in the magazine and across digital platforms. Utilizing the Variety archives, the series focuses on the Civil Rights movement and the landmark Loving case, showing the historical significance of the case through pop culture. 

As part of an on-going partnership with Indiewire, the studio produced a video series for Filmstruck "Movies That Inspire Me," featuring conversations with Sundance Film Festival directors about their favorite FilmStruck titles from the Turner Classic Movies and Criterion Collection, promoted regularly throughout December.

Variety?s partner brands in this endeavor already include Mercedes-Benz, Delta Airlines, Kering and Karma Automotive. 

Variety has some steep competition: HuffPost has been the most active high-profile publication in branded content, including an effort with American Family insurance which leveraged a unique noninvasive advertising platform to host a 360-degree video (see story). 

?It's pretty safe to say that mobile video will have rapidly increasing impact in publishing in the coming years,? Mr. McNally said. ?There are a number of reasons, ranging from bigger screens, more wi-fi/data, and lowering costs of video production?but even without those factors, video is simply engaging. 

?Content overload and messaging fatigue is pandemic, but video (at least currently, and when it's done right) has a unique ability to captivate and engage audiences in an unmatched way.  Savvy media organizations jumped on this opportunity years ago, and I expect more media organizations will continue to put more effort and emphasis on video moving forward, for content with and without ads.?