EXCLUSIVE: A pair of UK execs are unveiling a plan to bring TV commissioning and brands closer together, as they launch London-based content agency and production firm House of Oddities (HOO).
Sachini Imbuldeniya and Darren Smith have teamed to open HOO, which launches this morning.
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Imbuldeniya has exited Argonon-owned branded content company Nemorin and will be CEO of the new venture, while her creative partner Smith is Chief Creative Officer. He joins from fintech firm APLYiD, but also previously worked at Nemorin.
Prior to Argonon, which counts The Masked Singer producer Bandicoot and Leopard Pictures among its ranks, the pair led News UK’s Bridge Studio and have worked with numerous networks, streamers and production companies.
They are joined at HOO by co-founders Juan Leon, a filmmaker who will be executive producer, and Juliette Otterburn-Hall, who is non-executive director.
The company is being billed as a “full-service content agency,” with a major focus on selling branded content ideas to channels and streamers “in a way that eases the budget constraints faced by most commissioners without compromising on show quality or editorial independence.”
Imbuldeniya told Deadline the founders were aware they are launching HOO at a tough time for TV in the UK, with Channel 4 set to make 200 staff redundant, many freelancers out of work and streamers appearing to pull back on original content spend.
She said TV ad money was shifting into premium content, and claimed HOO’s model would provide cost effective options and the ability to create “juicy bonus content that surrounds a show and drives bigger audiences.”
“I’ve worked with brands to help them break into long-form video content and TV programming, and it’s frustrating just how closed-off that world can be,” added Imbuldeniya. “Brands have moved on from the old days of expecting a half-hour show to be a long puff-piece about how great their products are: Brand marketers are savvy and respect the need to tell a great story in order to attract audience interest, engagement and loyalty.
“While it breaks my heart to see people suffering in the TV industry, I think this reckoning has been a long time coming. But honestly, there is another way in which TV can adapt, survive and actually get even better, by embracing brands in the right way. We’ve created HOO as a new agency that can bring a fresh perspective to TV programming – and maintain creative excellence while delivering tangible results for brands and more revenue for TV companies.”
Imbuldeniya pointed to the likes Mattel’s Barbie, The Lego Movie franchise and Netflix’s Formula 1 series Drive to Survive as examples of how brands are permeating TV and film production, but added: “Not every brand is a household name backed by billions of dollars like Lego. We need to attract smaller brands to the TV table.”
She noted brands such as Patagonia have been producing their own documentaries on YouTube and gaining significant audiences, adding that commissioners “need to realize that they no longer hold all the cards.”
This would be where HOO would step in, helping develop program ideas that meet the needs of commissioners, while creating full ‘ecosystems’ of content around them that are owned by brands. The company claimed it “can do all this for a much lower cost than reaching out to separate content, digital, creative or production agencies, too.”
Imbuldeniya and Smith have worked with the likes of Gucci, British Airways, Google, Christian Louboutin and Snapchat on branded campaigns. Both have also worked in digital, on-demand and linear programming, delivering branded content ideas for Sky, Disney+, NBC Universal, Warner Discovery, Hulu, Channel 4, ITV, Amazon and National Geographic.
“With the right editorial skills and strategy we’ve proven that we can make brands pay for great TV… and make great TV pay for brands,” said Smith. “That’s why the House of Oddities is launching on Blue Monday: on the shittiest day of the year — and after one of the most miserable years that TV has faced in decades. We see HOO as a little beacon of hope, one with an approach that can save TV, so that we can all enjoy quality programming on the best screen in the house for a long, long time to come.”
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