AOL Shifts Toward More Live Daily Programming on Web
Indeed, as the Web pioneer heads toward it fourth NewFront presentation on Tuesday, the company appears to have made a strategic programming shift. Rather than trying to out-TV TV with a slate of cable-like original series or celebrity lifestyle projects, AOL is all cranking out lots of live and scheduled daily programming.
Specifically, instead of producing 80-some-odd episodes of Web originals like it did last year, AOL plans to churn out 3,600 episodes of various news and talk shows this year, as it attempts to cater to mobile viewers while also creating clips that will be shared and repurposed.
AOL is essentially taking the formula that worked for HuffPost Live and spreading it wide. That venture, which streams live content each day for eight hours, is as much about providing a steady stream of video content for Huffingtonpost.com as it as about live tune-in.
For example, AOL has already launched “AOL.Rise,” a short, daily news and information series that is AOL’s answer to a morning show, as well as the sports satire show”2 Point Lead,” which AOL posts every day at 2:00 p.m. EDT. and the celebrity interview series “AOL Build.”
During Tuesday’s NewFront, AOL will announce “What to Watch,” a daily two-and-a-half minute series showcasing the best in video, either from the Web and TV.
The live/short-form strategy is also being extended to AOL’s top brands, including TechCrunch, which will produce “The Crunch Report” as well as Engadget, which already features “Daily Roundup,” along with the the previously announced live weekly news and talk series”The HuffPost Show.”
That show’s early numbers provide a explanation of why AOL is focusing on this sort of programming. Since debuting on April 3, ”The HuffPost Show” has garnered 8.2 million views, 36%of which came from Facebook and Twitter, AOL said.
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AOL will also continue to lean into documentary projects, including the newsy “Now What with Ryan Duffy” and a project for TechCrunch being shepherded by the actor Jared Leto.
Last year, AOL landed sponsors for 11 of 16 original series it presented. Some of those shows did achieve solid viewership, with individual episodes generating between 750,000 and 4 million views, said a person familiar with the matter.
AOL has renewed two series from last year: the interview show “Park Bench with Steve Buscemi” and “Making a Scene,” which features James Franco reenacting and remixing classic movie scenes.
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But overall, the new lineup feels like a departure from two years ago, when AOL’s NewFront was noteworthy for its slew of celebrity projects, including shows put forth by Gwyneth Paltrow, Hank Azaria, Nicole Richie and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Beyond original videos, AOL also maintains a large distribution network with numerous top media partners, making short topical shows that could travel well over that network more logical for the company than, say, scripted series. Collectively, AOL’s video ad revenue surged 90% last year and should exceed $500 million in 2015, said a person familiar with the matter.
This is the first NewFront overseen by Dermot McCormack, who was named AOL’s new president of video and studios in October after the departure of former video head Ran Harnevo. Mr. McCormack said that AOL is not only aiming for frequent mobile consumption of its content, but also wants to make a big play for the living room. AOL’s video app is on 16 different over-the-top platforms, including Xbox and Apple TV.
The recently premiered long-form reality series “Connected,” which generated a million views in its first week, drew 15% of those views from connected TVs.
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But few of the new shows seen to carry the same ambition as “Connected,” a “Real World”-esque series during which a group of New Yorkers filmed themselves for six months. The closest such show this year might be “Journey to the Draft,” though which AOL will chronicle the lives of several NFL hopefuls before and after the league’s draft this year.
Mr. McCormack was clear that AOL is not aiming for Netflix-sized projects with its originals that might be dependent on advertisers underwriting their productions, and wants to steer away from mimicking an upfront model.
“This isn’t about a season for us,” he said. “We are programming all year. And if you look at cable TV numbers, we are there. We’re not putting out a slate in April and then you never hear from us.” Read more here