MIPTV: Marriott Content Boss Talks Launching a Studio, Growth Plans

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The hotel chain has already premiered its first short film and has several series in the works, with David Beebe citing Lego as a role model.

Hotel giant Marriott has checked into Hollywood with its Global Content Studio, producing films and shows with the aim of becoming the biggest travel brand in the world.

Following its launchlast year with a slew of YouTube and Snapchat stars on its roster, it has already produced its first short film, Two Bellmen. It has also created music and travel show Navigator, which airs on Mark Cuban’s AXS cable channel in the U.S, and hidden-camera Web series Courtyard Connect in partnership with the NFL. It has several other projects in production.

Later this year, it will release a second short film from Ghost Whisperer and Profiler producers Ian Sander and Kim Moses, and Marriott is also in talks with a U.S. network to develop a food and beverage show.

Marriott is being feted in Cannes as the MIPTV Brand of the Year. Since it has its own deep pockets to draw from, productions can get started easily, Global Content Studio vp David Beebe told The Hollywood Reporter.

“We have a lot of series in development," he said. "What I mean is coming up with the ideas that we are going to do, unlike traditional development where we have to go find money, but we just go straight to production. What is it, lock on it, what’s the budget and go. Because we’re typically bringing financing to the table, and so it’s a much quicker process.”

The brand also launched an online travel magazine, Gone, with Medium.com, as well as sponsored celebrity tome The Art of Discovery with Shailene Woodley, Naomi WattsJared Leto and Kristen Stewart among the 50 luminaries who posed and penned essays for the book.  

“It’s brand as storyteller, brand as publisher, brand as media company," Beebe said about his team's role. "Our way in as a media company is that we want to own travel, that entire travel journey – oh, and by the way, we sell hotel rooms.”

The company is aiming for global domination. “We intend to be the world’s largest publisher of travel content,” says Beebe, counting the 38 million unique visitors that visit the hotel homepage, which will soon include a magazine-style destination section, and the 48 million rewards members that will be targeted with exclusive content.

“The idea of the studio, it wasn’t necessarily to be producing entertainment; it’s about connecting with consumers. Why are we spending $3 million on a TV spot that nobody watches? It’s a lot cheaper to produce three short films for that same number and have two-way engagement and have a social conversation. Being a producer is a by-product.”

Art-heist-meets-parkour short Two Bellmen premiered in downtown L.A. and on YouTube March 10 and had an Academy Awards-qualifying run in theaters.

The film is intended as the first of a trilogy, and Beebe has long-term ambitions for the property. “It’s a franchise property, meaning it’s very Ocean’s 11, 12, 13,” with sequels already planned for Dubai and Asia and potentially a feature film. “It’s the same approach that Lego did with the Lego Movie. They started doing Web series and eventually launched their movie, which has been very successful for growing brand affinity and loyalty to their products."

The deals with YouTube stars including Louis Cole, Sonia Gil and Jack Harries – who has 4.5 million subscribers to his channel – are what Beebe compares to the Old Hollywood studio system, where ideas are developed around and with the talent while they are signed to the brand.

Snapchat is the biggest social medium for the brand. “I’ve never seen higher engagement than Snapchat," Beebe says. "We’re seeing like 40 million impressions in a weekend. It’s ridiculous the amount of engagement we have seen.”

The company is also looking at developing additional short film series for its Renaissance and Ritz Carlton properties, as well as looking for local producing partners in several of the 78 global markets where it has hotels.

“For me it’s no different than what I did working in the entertainment business,” says Beebe, who previously served as vp of Disney/ABC’s digital studio.

Beebe also hopes to develop a TV series around a hotel, in the spirit of Love Boat or popular procedural hospital dramas. “It’s just like Grey’s Anatomy, without the surgery. There’s a natural drama that takes place in a hotel,” he says. “I think a resort hotel would be a great place to do a show, whether it’s scripted, a comedy, reality, or on a set modeled after one of our hotels, I don’t know, but the idea of a show in that environment is interesting to us.”

Marriott is also working closely with L.A. agencies to build shows around talent. Food and beverage is a current focus for development, with shows about art, fashion and all things lifestyle on the horizon, while keeping travel at the core.

Says Beebe: “There’s no shortage of work, ideas, or shortage of content to develop. It’s endless.”

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