Microsoft to Buyers: Online Video a Key Future Focus

Microsoft on Thursday (Apr. 23) presented a handful of new online series concepts to a gathering of media buyers on hand for the company’s second annual digital showcase event at the Le Parker Meridien Hotel in New York, as the company’s sales executives looked to send a clear message that Web video is core to the software giant’s ongoing media strategy.  

“We’ve made an investment in premium content centered around video,” said Rick Song, senior director, eastern U.S. sales, Microsoft Advertising, in opening the event. Between branded entertainment vehicles and original series, Song boasted that Microsoft had already produced 50 original Web series.

In the works for this year are several comedy series concepts, including Foley Guys, which will star The Office’s Rainn Wilson. That show, which Wilson will also produce, will depict a group of friends who head to Hollywood looking to fulfill their dream of become foley artists—i.e. the sound effects experts found on film crews.

Another project Microsoft is pitching is an untitled office comedy, starring Dave Foley (News Radio, The Kids in the Hall) and Amy Davidson (8 Simple Rules…) both of whom were on hand at the showcase. That series has beed deliberately left without a title, as Microsoft is looking to entice a potential advertiser with its naming rights. In fact, the Foley/Davidson vehicle is almost entirely conceptual at this point, as Microsoft plans to let whatever advertiser that comes on board guide the direction, storylines and format of the show—based on that brand’s target audience.

Microsoft is also hoping to attract advertisers to Cinemash, another series built around a deliberately malleable concept. The idea behind that show is to feature comedic stars acting out favorite, and unlikely movie roles. For example, Will Arnett (Arrested Development) would display his acting chops by playing the lead role in the horror classic Carrie.

The distribution for these shows is wide open, as Microsoft executives said that most could find their way onto MSN, Xbox Live, and the portable device Zune, among other platforms. However, one of the more ironed out series concept presented on Thursday was Last Night on TV, which is geared specifically MSN’s new entertainment site Wonderwall. That show will feature comedians such as the duo Frangela (He’s Just Not That Into You) reviewing the previous night’s television highlights.

Entertainment was a major emphasis of Microsoft’s presentation, as executives touted the early response to Wonderwall, the celebrity photo-heavy project launched in February by the company Berman/Braun (in fact, former Yahoo media head turned prouder Lloyd Braun spoke during Thursday’s showcase). Scott Moore, who recently returned to Microsoft after his own Yahoo tenure to become executive producer & general manager of MSN, implied that several similar entertainment/women-targeted series projects are planned for the near future.

Besides MSN, representatives from Microsoft-sibling MSNBC.com also presented a pair of series projects, both born of the Today Show. The news site is planning to build online extensions of the morning show’s popular cooking and makeover segments: Today’s Kitchen Cooking School and Today’s Ambush Makeover. MSNBC.com will unveil channels dedicated to each concept, where users can find more in depth instruction on recipes/makeovers featured in the show. And both channels will leverage unused video footage from Today, and both will offer opportunities for product placement.

Overall, given the length (over two hours) and scope of Microsoft’s presentation, it was clearly aiming to reinforce in advertisers’ minds that the company is a major player in the original Web content business—and not just a software provider. Said Keith Lorizio, vp U.S. advertising sales, Microsoft Advertising: “Unavoidably we are still viewed nationally as the technology media company. But the depth and breadth of our content is second to none.”