Media: Headliner - Mathew Freer to lead AFP charge at Celador

The TV production company has launched Brand Alliances to develop its commercial opportunities. Ian Darby reports.

Celador International views Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? as the Coca-Cola or the McDonald's of television entertainment. "It's the world's largest entertainment programme," its PR woman asserts.

With some justification. Launched in the UK in 1998, the show is licensed to more than 100 countries, with brand extensions including interactive games, text versions, sponsorships and other commercial tie-ups galore.

Millionaire now has a whole brand management team within Celador to look after the property, making sure that the company takes up the right opportunities.

It was on the back of this success that Celador International was launched in 2000 as an independent company to exploit the rights of Celador Productions' shows and those from third parties in the UK and abroad.

Ellis Watson, now the managing director of Mirror Group Newspapers, was the managing director of Celador International in its early days and the company attempts to cultivate a similar dynamic entrepreneurial spirit under its current managing director, Adrian Woolfe.

So, while most production companies rely on the payment they receive for the programmes they make, Celador was lucky, or skilful, enough to end up with a property in Millionaire? that has become a phenomenon as well as a nice little earner.

The next stage in Celador International's expansion is the launch of Brand Alliances, a division to focus on working with advertisers and agencies on developing commercial opportunities ranging from advertiser-funded programming to barter deals and sponsorship.

Celador has hired Mathew Freer, a former agency man who also has some TV content experience, to lead its activity in this area. Not only will he work on tie-ups for Celador's productions (as well as Millionaire, it has produced programmes including You Are What You Eat and CD:UK and is currently seeking commercial support for a global football event), he will also help brands link up with other production companies and broadcasters globally.

The whole world of AFP seems more than a little nebulous, especially in the UK, but Freer was attracted to the role because of Celador's commercial track record, mainly with Millionaire. "I've been an evangelist in this area for some time and it was a case of me chasing down Celador. You need a fantastic brand name such as Celador to open doors and it's got the most successful brand there is. It's the most commercially focused production company there is; the way it has exploited its opportunities is extraordinary."

Freer possesses something of the Celador entrepreneurial spirit himself.

After studying at Oxford, he landed at Bates Dorland working on Safeway, before moving to Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, rising from account manager to board director before jumping ship to Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, where he worked on business including Kronenbourg, Danone and Virgin Trains.

So why leave the wonderful world of the ad agency? "Life was passing me by. It was ending up with me and some friends down the pub, and me saying the future lay in AFP but doing very little about it."

So he made the break from advertising two years ago by taking some programme ideas to Action Time, a division of Carlton. Several have been optioned, though he's tight-lipped on whether any will see the light of day. He then moved to the BBC to work with its format development team, which has been responsible for shows including The Weakest Link and Strictly Come Dancing. "It was a totally different experience: I'd basically been an account man not directly involved in the creative process and so, for me, it was time on the other side - sitting in meetings, brainstorming ideas."

Woolfe says: "Mat's got a great combination of having worked in the ad agency world and then at the BBC, where he built a lot of contacts. He can talk the language brand owners understand and is also at home in the world of content."

Freer sees AFP in the UK as initially of limited potential because of tight regulation, but he believes this will change: "It will grow in the UK as the broadcasters' need for funding grows ... there is already a will to grow it in day-parts where there is a need and there are more opportunities with multichannel."

Celador already has a strong track record in dealing with brands: leading advertisers including McDonald's and Procter & Gamble have been involved in licensing or barter deals, but Freer's brief is to push these relationships further - sometimes through connecting them with Celador properties but, more often than not, with programmes for other producers.

For the time being, Freer is a lone agent, running Brand Alliances without a team, but he believes he will receive plenty of help from across the company. "These guys are used to talking the language of brands," he says.

Freer's first project is sponsorship related, attempting to bring in partners for The British Independent Film Awards. However, Freer has the necessary drive and vision, not to mention the faith in advertiser-funded programming, to suggest that his horizons lie somewhere beyond such prosaic deals.

- Live Issue, page 19

THE LOWDOWN

Age: 32

Lives: Wimbledon

Family: Wife, Tash

Most treasured possession: My home - it's a bolthole of happiness

Describe yourself in three words: Never entirely satisfied

Favourite TV programme: The OC

Interests outside work: Walking up hills, sitting very still

Last book you read: A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving

Job you'd most like in media apart from this one: Director of television

at Channel 4

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