19 Entertainment’s appointment of Popworld chief executive Martin Lowde as head of digital entertainment is further evidence that the company is looking to move beyond its talent-management agency roots.
Lowde is the latest high-profile name to defect to Simon Fuller’s 19; he follows in the footsteps of former Ford brand chief Stuart Dyble (MW December 21, 2006) and Universal McCann vice-president Chris Shaw, both of whom joined last year.
19 was set up in 1985 as an artist management company, and is still headed by its founder Fuller. He claims to have been behind 109 number one singles and 87 chart-topping albums in the UK alone, but it was the agency’s management of pop group the Spice Girls that first brought him, and his innovative approach to creating entertainment brands, to the nation’s attention.
19 orchestrated a mass of sponsorship deals on the back of the Spice Girls’ success, heralding a new era in which it took it upon itself to reshape the modus operandi of the entertainment industry.
It was similarly effective in exploiting the Pop Idol format – American Idol in the US – which it created, and which is now the world’s most valuable television property, worth about $2.5bn (£1.3bn) globally.
Pop Idol is perhaps 19’s biggest success to date, with lucrative revenues earned through selling the format worldwide, as well as merchandising and phone-in votes. But recently 19 has steered its ship away from its heartland of music and entertainment, as it strives to attain a more balanced portfolio and stretch the brand into new sectors, such as sport and fashion.
Extending the umbrella
Indeed, the umbrella group, which was sold to US company CKX in 2005, now comprises a television production company, music tour operator, sports management operator and merchandising firm.
The shift is perhaps epitomised by the agency orchestrating the landmark transfer of David Beckham from Real Madrid to Los Angeles Galaxy. Many suspect that the magnitude of the deal, touted as potentially the biggest in sporting history, could not have been achieved through any other agency.
Yet experts have questioned the wisdom of a move away from its core disciplines.
One source says/ "The danger is that Fuller will spread himself too thin. He might take his finger off the pulse and move the brand into areas he doesn’t understand."
However, Ben Pincus, chief executive of sponsorship agency The Works, disagrees. He says that the agency is now likely to stay focused on sport and entertainment and will prove a worthy competitor for the likes of heavyweight sports groups SFX and IMG.
Pincus adds: "I think it is very interesting. You have the likes of IMG, which is steeped in tradition, and then 19 with its innovative ideas – bringing an entertainment approach to sport and fashion."19’s latest area of interest, perhaps spurred by the Beckham deal, is sports sponsorship and has resulted in it taking control of the England football team’s commercial and merchandising activities.
On a course to success?
It also handles the Honda Formula 1 team’s global marketing activity (MW February 16) – the first time an entertainment company had been appointed to handle a Formula 1 team’s marketing. As one industry says/ ‘The new Honda car looks horrible but if Fuller can make a success from Formula 1 then he’ll be well placed to succeed elsewhere."