Ben Silverman's new production company Electus will be creating a reality contest for DJs, "Master of the Mix," financed by the drinks company Diageo, to air on BET.
Silverman made the announcement at TheWrap's entertainment leadership conference, TheGrill, on Tuesday.
Silverman's new company aims to partner with advertisers earlier in the life cycle of a show.
To that end, his start-up is adding the Diageo show to others including the interactive telenovella, “Pedro & Maria,” for MTV.
“I’m not 21 and still in my dorm room, but I think this company has opportunity to be an enormous company in terms of its profitability,” Silverman said. “I’ll measure success in terms of impacting the audience, empowering storytelling and making dough.”
Launched less than a year ago, Electus wears its new media credentials proudly. Financed by Barry Diller’s IAC, Electus considers itself a fully integrated multimedia entertainment studio that brings together producers, creators, advertisers and distributors under one roof.
In the case of “Pedro & Maria,” Electus has partnered with Procter & Gamble to help it connect with the Hispanic market. The Romeo and Juliet-style story is executive produced by “Ugly Betty” star America Ferrera.
On the reality-show front, Electus is creating “Master of the Mix,” a DJ competition reality show that will help Diageo and its Smirnoff brand connect with young urban audiences. Smirnoff ads currently feature several hip-hop-infused, nightclub scenes, so the setting of the show is a natural extension of the liquor brand's marketing campaign.
“We work in broadcast, in digital, with portals. We work with media buying companies, ad agencies, Fortune 500 advertisers,” Silverman said. “We’re not looking to cut out any one element. We’re looking for everyone to get into the room and play together.”
The enormous changes in distribution have wrought havoc on the ways that companies hawk their products. Thanks to DVR and video-on-demand, the traditional commercial may one day soon be a thing of the past, he said. “We have to combine creative elements in what would normally exist as ad breaks. they have to be a character in our show, and we have to think about it in a way that is less disruptive than a 30 second spot."
Silverman said he used a similar approach in crafting his previous hits such as “The Office” on NBC, which stayed on the air despite a low-rated first season in large part thanks to product-placement pacts with companies such as Staples.
He said that maintaining that kind of cozy relationship with the ad side helps Electus keep a more focused approach to designing and creating new shows.
‘Networks always just say we want a hit,” Silverman said. “When you work with a brand it gives you more definition around a demographic target or a communications goal.”
Silverman said he'll share scripts with advertisers, but for the most part they'll have limited editorial impact. He also believes that the close relationship with brands hasn’t hurt the quality of the shows. “We have relationships on a profound level with the A-list storytelling matrix in Hollywood and NYC,” he said. “Our goal is to win Golden Globes.”
Though he may have moved away from his more orthodox roots as the head of production company Reveille and co-chairman of NBC, Silverman thinks that retransmission fees have been an incredible lifeline for the broadcast networks.
“It was a home run for that business, something that will keep it more relevant and viable from profitability standpoint,” Silverman said.
He also noted that in this age of alternate platforms, the definition of a hit show might need to change. An overnight rating may no longer be the true indication of a show’s appeal. “The network shows' ratings last night seemed to disappoint, but maybe that’s the new good,” Silverman said.
The Electus chief has a more straightforward idea of what will make his new venture a hit, though: “We want to create a company that can grow and adapt for changing distribution paradigms … but we’re in this to make money.”