By Sahil Patel
AOL is going long-form. The company has commissioned a 20-episode season of “Connected,” a documentary-reality series that will follow the lives of five men and women in New York City, as filmed by the subjects themselves.
The series is based on a successful international TV franchise of the same name, which to date has aired different adaptations in Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Holland, India, Ireland, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, and Ukraine. In Israel (where AOL Video boss Ran Harnevo hails from), “Connected” is one of the highest-rated cable show and a three-time winner of the Israeli Film and Television Academy’s Best Documentary & Docu-Reality award.
AOL’s version of the show will premiere next January on AOL On and select sites from the video platform’s 1,700-strong partner network. The first season will consist of 20 installments, with each episode running for 22–30 minutes.
Across those episodes, the series will show the lives of five “seemingly disconnected New Yorkers” as they personally explore the concept of what family means in New York City. Per AOL’s announcement: “As the five parallel stories unfold and eventually come together in a cohesive storyline, viewers are reminded of the universal bond that family has on individuals and on society as a whole — regardless of social status, income, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation.”
The authentic nature of “Connected,” where the subjects will be shooting their own content, is stressed by AOL on multiple occasions for how it aligns with the company’s video strategy.
“The content itself is incredibly engaging and aligns quite nicely with our editorial position of ‘Authentic Voices, Remarkable Stories,’” says Gabe Lewis, head of AOL Originals and AOL Studios, to VideoInk. “Its first-person format’s authenticity is refreshing when contrasted with American television’s reliance on soft-scripted and overly-produced ‘reality’ programming.”
Last year, authenticity across AOL On originals came in the form of shows starring personalities with strong followings on the web. That was a success, as the company’s 2013 Newfronts slate has amassed more than 150 million views to date, with one show, “#CandidlyNicole,” landing a TV deal with VH1.
That said, according to Lewis, the authentic nature of the show’s format wasn’t the only reason for its pickup. In addition to its international success, “Connected” also lends itself to “reinvention from season to season depending on the casting and themes being explored.”
As for why AOL is now making the decision to jump into longer content lengths: “AOL On is focused on extending our distribution across multiple screens — we’re already programming across 13 devices, including OTT players like Roku, Samsung, Sony Bravia, and Xbox,” says Lewis. “And while the audience on these devices has yet to reach the scale of our desktop and mobile audiences, it’s constantly growing and we’re at a point where we can’t ignore the more platform-specific behaviors we see there.”
AOL will present “Connected” as part of its 2014 Newfronts slate on April 29. The original “Connected” was created by Ram Landes, founder of Koda Communications, which is leading production for the US adaptation. Armoza Formats holds international distribution rights to the property.
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