Digital budgets (and their sometimes less-than flattering comparison to fatter linear productions) were a big issue at this year’s National Association of Television Programming Executives (NATPE), giving rise to plenty of discussion/debate around the rise of brand integration as a means to help fund content creation.
The likes of Marriott and Red Bull, both of which have their own production studios, are often cited among the leaders in this space, though there are others that are gaining audience traction with sponsored digital projects. Take, for example, Believe Entertainment Group, which has partnered with the likes of Intel, Sprite, Nike and McDonald’s to produce popular series such as the animated The LeBrons with LeBron James (now in its third season on YouTube and other platforms) and the 10-episode In the Booth doc-style series on YouTube featuring star DJ Tiesto.
Now Yahoo is throwing its hat into the ring. The tech company has launched a new brand-integrated video series, to stream on its own platforms, called Cities Rising: Rebuilding America. Hosted by Yahoo’s global news anchor Katie Couric (pictured), the six-episode series is exclusively sponsored by H&R Block. Each episode will see Couric visit different cities across the U.S. and explore how community leaders are reinventing the urban space. A branded H&R Block segment will appear at the end of each video highlighting topics, such as tips on when to file taxes and when to expect a refund.
As part of the deal, H&R Block will also leverage Yahoo Splash Ads, which are integrated within the design of Yahoo’s digital magazines, as well as video and display advertising on Yahoo.
Lisa Utzschneider, Yahoo’s chief revenue officer, said in a statement that the partnership allows H&R Block to tap into Yahoo’s online audience, which, she said, “is constantly looking for entertaining video programming.”
“We’re delivering this for consumers along with unique opportunities for advertisers,” said Utzchneider, who was recently upped to the CRO role as the company looks to drive revenue growth for its key digital advertising business across its media properties.
Kathy Collins, chief marketing officer for H&R Block, said the tax company was looking to develop a partnership with an entity that could tell a compelling story and, at the same time, provide broad audience reach across the U.S. with a targeted message as tax season kicks off.
A spokesperson for Yahoo was not available at press time to answer questions on the company’s video views, and current audience metrics.
New episodes of Cities Rising: Rebuilding America will publish every other week on Yahoo.
News of the latest series production comes after three of Yahoo’s high-profile original video productions, Community, Sin City Saints and Other Space, failed to meet financial expectations, and the company shut down its streaming site, Yahoo Screen. The company launched a rebranded version of the Screen service in 2011 alongside a partnership with Viacom and eight original programs in an attempt to chip away market share from SVOD giants Netflix and Hulu. Since February 2013, the company’s digital portal has seen a decline in U.S. traffic by 25%, according to AdAge.