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The Inside Job

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NEW YORK On the Independent Film Channel, a short film shows international soccer player Thierry Henry standing in an old, romantic square in Barcelona, Spain, fielding questions from fans. Occasionally, the screen cuts to shots of Henry at play, bouncing a soccer ball on his head or kicking it down an alley. Behind the camera is Spanish actress Paz Vega (Spanglish), making her directorial debut.

The film, part of a series called "Framed," launched last December and runs through March. Consisting of 30-minute segments showcasing top athletes and first-time directors, it also lives online through a deal with Yahoo Sports that showcases elements such as outtakes. But more interesting than the show's mix of talent and platforms is its provenance: "Framed" was conceived and co-produced by Reebok Entertainment, the sports apparel brand's in-house division, which launched this past winter.

Although a handful of companies -- most notably Procter & Gamble -- have a history of producing original content in the analog space, the industry's increasing emphasis on digital has encouraged a new crop of brands, including Reebok, 1-800-Flowers.com, Anheuser-Busch and Dell, to commit to in-house content creation.

Brands, of course, have more control over their messaging when they do it themselves. "These divisions are partly about "not leaving it specifically up to an ad agency to say, 'Here's what we think your message should be,'" said Mike Goodman, director of digital entertainment at The Yankee Group.

Todd Krinsky, vp of sports and entertainment marketing for Reebok International, added, "There's so many more ways for consumers to ignore traditional advertising. If you're going to be on the cutting edge of communication, you need other creative ways to communicate with your consumers."

"Framed," Reebok Entertainment's first project, is produced in partnership with Carat/MY Entertainment and Roadside Entertainment. In addition to Henry, subjects include basketball player Baron Davis, whose short film (they're about three minutes each) was directed by actress Emmanuelle Chriqui (Entourage), and baseball player David Ortiz, paired with first-time director and commedian Carlos Mencia. Reebok is planning to do a second season, and is considering adding a mobile component.

Another new, in-house content-creation division is 1-800-Flowers.com's Connect 7 Productions, which launched last month with two YouTube Valentine's Day video contests. Headed by production industry veteran Bob Nastasi, vp and senior executive producer, the division also has a post-production facility.

In a twist, the online gift retailer is creating content for itself, as well as other advertisers. Nastasi said one of the first projects, a 30-minute branded-entertainment cable show slated to air within the next six months, is for another advertiser, which he declined to name.

"The next wave of e-commerce could be called social media," said Chris McCann, president of 1-800-Flowers.com. "We're trying to figure out the best ways to connect to our customers the way they're connecting with people online."

The growth of digital platforms spurred Dell to create an in-house content-creation division in late 2006, when it launched Studio Dell on its Web site. Studio Dell creates how-to videos and (non-entertainment) content for consumers on a variety of complicated subjects, such as virtualization (a technique for hiding the physical characteristics of computing resources from the ways in which other systems, applications or end users interact with them).

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