Ex-Channel 4 CEO David Abraham on his new agency model marrying advertising and TV

David Abraham announces Wonderhood Studios

As the ad industry consolidates, simplifies and tries to find solid ground in an environment of fragmented audiences and platforms, former Channel 4 chief executive David Abraham has lifted the lid on his new venture – a creative house called Wonderhood Studios which will develop TV programming and branded campaigns under one roof.

Abraham believes that by having both disciplines collaborate from the outset, he will form an agency model that has not yet been cracked while also diversifying the revenue stream of the company. He tells The Drum: "We don't see this as a conventional agency or production company. Our ambition is to create a new type of company that operates in both spaces in balance."

He is keen to cross-fertilise creative and production talent, guided by his expertise on both sides of the fence. Of course, the ad industry has changed considerably since Abraham co-founded independent creative agency St Luke's in 1997 after an extensive career working for the likes of Benton & Bowles, Collett Dickenson Peace (CDP) and Chiat/Day. He has since built a name in television working at the likes of Discovery, then serving as chief executive first of UKTV and then Channel 4 from 2010 to 2017. He was succeeded by Alex Mahon as chief executive at the broadcaster.

Wonderhood Studios aims to "break through a lot of the clutter in a fragmented marketplace," says Abraham. He intends to create an entity more efficient and focused than ad agencies pivoting into the production space or those formed in "acquisition or mergers as the agency networks attempt to bulk together services that have emerged in different silos".

In short, Abraham believes that by starting with "a blank sheet of paper" he can set a culture and shape a structure "which will have a better chance of working".

Powered by data

On top of this, he is keen to inform business decisions on the branded and programming side with analytics. He reflects on his pride in getting the data offering up and running at Channel 4, making it the world's first broadcaster to have a database of 15 million users.

Abraham says: "Building on that I will start to build a team that will effectively use audience insight in analytics from day one around everything we produce and every campaign we develop."

Abraham envisions one day using this team to develop content channels and platforms, likening this vision to what Red Bull and Formula One have done. These entities could attract brands, or merely be run by the agency. He adds: "I have a background creating channels at UKTV and more recently All 4. I an interested in the crossover between brands and channels."

Much of these developments are further down the pipeline and will be dependent on conversations with potential clients.

He admits that starting from scratch "may be slower" but the final product will be more "organic". "We are very focused on getting the culture and approach together, you don't want to be part of a three legged store that is forcing parts to conform in ways that don't work or are uncomfortable."

Nonetheless Abraham theorises that it will pay off to get the model working now "as the market continues to change and converge and disrupt that the way we are working".

The content

The studio will first operate in the factual and entertainment space. A cornerstone of Abraham's career was commissioning such content for Channel 4 during his seven-year stint in charge.

He promises to develop "prime-time programming produced by award-winning creators," and admits it would be nice if Channel 4 took a look at them. "I didn't set out wanting to rely on Channel 4 for funding... but the opportunity to sell Channel 4 some great shows will hopefully be part of what we are doing."

Further down the line, the firm will aim to bring scripted programming into the mix.

The business

Wonderhood Studios will launch in June, in a central London office capable of housing 25 staff members. He says once work is commissioned, the space may prove too small.

With the business already privately funded, Abraham has at his side Sachin Dosani as co-founder group and managing director. Dosani will leverage his experience as the managing director of media investment bank ACF, credited with broking over 60 major deals.

The pair will look to help brands navigate an ecosystem that has become increasingly complex since Abraham helped launch Sky TV's proposition in the late nineties, where a handful of analogue channels increased exponentially on the digital platform.

On the changing media landscape, he says: "It was revolutionary at the time, but those trends have multiplied.

"The journey is one is of increasing fragmentation for channels and brands, hence the need for editorial skills.

"The creative services industry is very focused on ideas but as an industry is not exposed to those complexities. As a manager and a leader, Hopefully I can bring in a good blend of business skills with myself and Sachin, an understanding of how to work well and bring out the best in talented creative people. A lot of this also comes from an understanding of how to raise capital."

The chase for clients is on. Abraham concludes: "We want to handle big challenging brief with high impact, national and cultural ambition to what they want to communicate."

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