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Executive Interview: Rich Rosenthal

Through the years, Warner Bros. has become synonymous with long-standing, popular sitcoms. Soon after marketers brainstorm their latest and greatest advertising blitzes, you can be sure they’ll be knocking on the studio’s front gates. The advertising agencies and marketers sprinkled throughout Hollywood and beyond aren’t new players to the content-creation game-they’re seasoned veterans in many respects. Rich Rosenthal is one of them. Except he’s running a new game in town now. Studio 2.0, as it’s called, is Warner Bros. new venture in short-form broadband and mobile content for marketers. Rosenthal was hired as senior vice president of creative affairs and production of the newly formed division to bring his award-winning expertise to this new realm. The idea is to create short-form content that reaches advertisers’ core audiences. And although funding will come from marketers, Rosenthal assures RCR Wireless News that creative juices will continue to flow freely.

Where do you see wireless fitting in to the future of television?
The technology has to amp up a bit. When people have shown me Webisodes that were not living on the hard drive of the phone, I found it a bit frustrating with the buffering of the content. That said, I think with the [Apple Inc.] iPhone, as the screens get better, it’s going to be as important a platform as the Web. And we plan on creating content for both screens.

What is the philosophy behind Studio 2.0?
It’s to work closely with advertisers to create content that talks to their market, their consumers. The idea is to create original, episodic, short-form, compelling content and work with advertisers at the beginning of the process so they’re invested in it and make them a partner with us. But we create great content that can live on the Web and wireless devices.

How do you walk the line between producing a glorified commercial and programming for purely entertainment purposes?
We’re really trying to do entertaining shows, we’re not trying to make commercials. We’ve gotten a lot of great response from advertisers to create great content. They tell me, ‘I don’t need to see my product in there.’ We’re looking for targeted shows-shows that hit that particular demographic that they want to hit. We want to make great shows that can live there and maybe even live on other platforms eventually.

Do you think creative content could suffer if too much emphasis is put on advertisers’ desires?
Yes, of course it could, but then again it depends on how smartly you do it. Look at things like BMW Films, or look at some other things that really were branded entertainment that worked very nicely and were entertaining and did manage to show off some product. It really depends how seamlessly you do it. But the writing comes first. . The content is what’s going to make people want to watch that show. Of course there are a million different things in production that can make you ruin that show.

What types of programming do you plan to develop? Will it all be short-form content?
It’ll all be short-form for now. But it will be scripted, unscripted, animated, live action, reality, game shows and interactive shows. It really will run the gamut. And we’ve got a lot of things in development now-a horror genre, comedy, documentary, game show.

What kind of response have you received from wireless carriers and content owners?
We get calls everyday from advertisers and marketers. I’m sure a lot of content providers are being called. There is really a tremendous demand for content. I mean [the Web has] limitless bandwidth and everybody wants to have a great show.

Can you describe the specific responsibilities you have in this role?
Part of it is talent scouting, part of it is scouring for the Web. But also I’m working a great deal in leveraging the creative assets within Warner Bros. and Time Warner. So many of my projects will come from utilizing the sister companies within Time Warner. And we’ve been largely successful developing projects for that.
But we’ll also be using my past experience in agency life and tapping into our directors and copy writers-all who have some really great ideas, short-form ideas-because they sort of live in that world.
We’ll also get submissions from production companies, animation houses, producers and directors.

How does this business model differ from what Hollywood studios are generally involved in?
We’re creating content specifically for the Web and wireless devices. We are trying to make high-quality content so it doesn’t differ in that many respects, except we’re looking for talent on the Web as well. And we’re keeping it short-form. I would only like to create content that could live anywhere-I don’t want to make stuff that’s just good for the Web, I want to make stuff that’s good.

Do you expect marketers to help foot the bill for this new programming?
That is the idea-to develop it with the advertiser and have the advertiser sponsor the content.

Why do you think Warner Bros. is taking a significant lead in this mobile and broadband content arena?
It’s forward thinking on their part. I think they realize that there will be eventual convergence of television and computer.
Look, content is king. . We know that eyeballs are going to the Internet, and so why not create content for where the eyeballs are?

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