- Friday, Aug. 18, 2000
Interactive experimentation and business forays into new media are becoming increasingly prevalent in the advertising sector. Recent developments include the non-exclusive relationship between ad agency Fallon, Minneapolis, and Hollywood-based iBelieve Media (SHOOT, 8/4, p. 1); and bicoastal HSI Productions' launch of Kayoss, a satellite designed to produce original Internet content (SHOOT, 7/14, p. 1).
Now throwing his hat into the ring is veteran commercial director Peter Kagan of Santa Monica-headquartered Stiefel+Company. Kagan has reached an agreement in principle to enter his new media boutique, [+]iTV, into a joint venture with editorial/design/interactive multimedia firm ARTiFACT to form ARTiFACT[+]iTV. The new shop, housed in ARTiFACT's Santa Monica facility, will specialize in convergent media, with emphasis on advertising for interactive television.
Kagan said he continues to make Stiefel+Company his directorial home, encompassing traditional commercialmaking and new-media advertising. But he reasoned that linking with ARTiFACT, an established player in the interactive and spot arenas, provides him with additional expertise and technical resources, as well as design and editing capabilities that are integral to new media. ARTiFACT[+]iTV is currently producing its first project: a piece designed to showcase the entertainment value of interactive TV advertising. Kagan directs and ARTiFACT CEO/creative director Steve Armstrong serves as editor on the job. The two collaborated earlier on some spec television spots for MTV, produced by Stiefel+Company.
The interactive genesis for Kagan, which led to his eventually becoming partnered in ARTiFACT[+]iTV, came last September when he helmed live commercials for Ford's Focus automobile via J. Walter Thompson, Detroit. Produced by Stiefel+ Company, the first flight of ads debuted during the MTV Music Video Music Awards (SHOOT, 8/27/99, p. 7) and starred Annabelle Gurwitch, the co-host of TBS Superstation's Dinner & a Movie.
The novelty turned out to be a defining experience for Kagan when a spot in the initial campaign had Gurwitch preparing to pick up singer Ricky Martin after a concert. She held up two outfits and asked viewers to go to the Focus Web site (which displayed pictures of Gurwitch wearing each getup) and to choose which one she should wear. The response rate was "overwhelming," according to the director, who was monitoring the feedback via a Web site setup in a truck during production. "It answered for me the question, 'Why do live commercials?' " related Kagan. "We were able to connect with the audience and get them involved in the advertising."
That involvement advanced to the next level in a follow-up flight of live ads this past spring, in which viewers were asked to provide dialogue and choose scenarios for upcoming Ford Focus spots—some slated to air within the next half hour (SHOOT, 3/10, p. 7). Kagan characterized Bruce Rooke, executive VP/executive creative director at J. Walter Thompson, Detroit, as being "a visionary" and "very brave" to choose the live interactive "tele-webbing" approach.
Kagan used the tele-webbing term to describe the estimated 35 million to 45 million people who regularly surf the net while watching television. "Generally, they've got two screens happening in the same room—a flow of data coming out of the computer in pursuit of information; and a flow of entertainment in pursuit of amusement coming out of the television. What's shaking down in the interactive television industry is a single-screen solution, where both experiences can come through via the television. We're jumping into that at the new company [ARTiFACT[+] iTV]—and it's not confined to just live spots. There are many opportunities."
Armstrong expects ARTiFACT[+]iTV to initially handle real-world interactive assignments that entail two screens—the TV and the computer, with viewers responding on the net. "Eventually everyone will migrate to one screen [interactive television]," contended Armstrong. "But dual-screen interactivity will serve as an important bridge to that over the next few years. It will help everybody in the advertising community wade into interactive waters with pro-jects that will give them national exposure as opposed to test-market exposure. Peter puts us in a stronger position to turn out that product—as well as the same product that can operate as a single-screen technology in test interactive television markets."
Kagan related a hypothetical: "Imagine you're a viewer and you become interested in a series of commercials episodic in nature that have you participating. That [scenario] is so gratifying to me as a commercial director—the opportunity to affect ratings of programs by making compelling enough advertising. People stay tuned in because they want to see how the commercials turn out. Other than the Super Bowl, there's no televised event in which a significant number of people tune in because they're interested in the ads. But now we can create that kind of excitement. We can make programming that's compelling—OK, it's sponsored and its 30 seconds long or whatever length, but it's culturally significant and as thrilling as anything I've ever done creatively."
The Ford Focus work prompted Kagan to attend varied new-media conferences to learn more, including his gaining an education regarding different interactive TV platforms. According to Kagan, it was during a San Francisco confab on interactive television that he began to have conversations with Armstrong about how they could possibly collaborate on new media. Kagan said that advice from Frank Stiefel, principal in Stiefel+ Company, helped him decide how to proceed. "Peter embraced interactive and in a very short time has become a player in that business," said Stiefel. "It's something he is pursuing on his own but he has my support. We're old and dear friends, and will continue to work together on projects he directs."
Kagan formed [+]iTV, Santa Monica, in June to facilitate experimentation and participation in convergent media. And now that move has progressed to [+]iTV teaming with ARTiFACT.
ARTiFACT has a track record of creating prototypes for interactive spots, including work for Acura and Airtouch Cellular (now Verizon). Currently, ARTiFACT is developing interactive movie trailer spot prototypes for 20th Century Fox; one is for X-Men, another promotes a new release that stars Tom Hanks. As earlier reported, ARTiFACT was involved in several interactive TV ad prototypes that debuted at the Western Cable Show in Los Angeles last December. Those prototypes were done in conjunction with Culver City, Calif.-based Random/Order, which provides interactive television solutions. These include creative and technical services, as well as strategic consulting for content creators, service providers and technology companies. Earlier this year, an agreement was reached whereby Random/Order was to have acquired a majority stake in ARTiFACT (SHOOT, 1/21, p. 1). But that deal subsequently fell through. Armstrong confirmed that ARTiFACT and Random/Order have "agreed to continue their business interests separately." He and Random/ Order chairman/CEO Stuart Gross declined to discuss specifics as to why the deal unraveled.
Nonetheless, Gross assessed that the joint venture between Kagan and ARTiFACT represented "a good marriage. I welcome the formation of content-provider organizations with skills in design and editorial. We need them to continue to advance this emerging interactive industry." He added that Random/ Order has its own in-house design capabilities, but he didn't rule out the possibility of a future acquisition in the editorial/design arena.
Partners in ARTiFACT are: Armstrong, COO/creative director/editor Christopher Willoughby, president/executive producer Michael Waters, senior producer Leah Welsh and senior editor Walt Louie.
Kagan noted that he will continue to straddle the advertising fence, directing new-media pro-jects as well as traditional commercial forms. In fact, at press time, he was in Florida helming a Stiefel+Company-produced real-people campaign for Carnival Cruise Lines. Kagan added that the real-people assignment had been planned for some time, well in advance of the actors' strike against the ad industry.