By Sahil Patel
The deal also will bring a bunch of shows from the cable giant’s family of networks, including the hit drama “The Blacklist,” to AOL platforms.
Overall, AOL’s fourth NewFront presentation tried to put a new spin on its annual content rollout: Instead of only showcasing a large slate of original series — which it still did — the company focused more on how it views “formats” as the new daypart and the type of programming it’s producing to reach consumers across different screens.
“Our strategy is simple — let’s create and distribute content that matches how people are watching content today,” said Dermot McCormack, AOL’s president of video.
This means grouping content into three different types of formats: short-form, snackable, and live videos that people can easily access and watch on smartphones; mid-form content that focuses more on storytelling and characters (a la “Making a Scene with James Franco” and “Park Bench with Steve Buscemi”); and long-form, which is intended for OTT and connected-TV platforms.
With it being a NewFront, AOL did unveil a large crop of programming it plans to release throughout 2015. “We will produce over 3,600 episodes of original content,” said McCormack.
A few of the series AOL plans to produce in 2015 have already been announced or released, including season two of “Making a Scene with James Franco” and “Park Bench with Steve Buscemi,” the new sports docu-series “Journey to the NFL Draft,” and daily series “AOL Rise” and “2 Point Lead.”
Among the shows that were announced at the NewFront: “Beyond the Horizon with Jared Leto,” which is a documentary interview series produced and hosted by the Oscar-winning actor. Leto will sit down with some of the “world’s most interesting visionaries” in areas such as science, art, technology, and politics to discuss, well, the future.
Part of a content and distribution deal it has with Derek Jeter and Legendary Entertainment’s The Players’ Tribune are two new series: “The Thursday Sports Show with Ben Lyons,” a weekly show that will feature athlete profiles, interviews, and field pieces; and “How It Happened,” an animated comedy series that will bring in athletes to recount and narrate funny or interesting moments from their careers, from locker room pranks to off-field errors.
AOL’s 2015 programming strategy includes original programming for its top publishing brands like The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Engadget, and Cambio. The Jared Leto series, for instance, comes via a partnership with TechCrunch.
For HuffPo, AOL showcased the already announced “The HuffPost Show,” a live weekly take on the week’s top stories hosted by Roy Sekoff and Marc Lamont Hill. It also previewed “Now What with Ryan Duffy,” a docu-series hosted by former Vice correspondent Ryan Duffy who will spotlight different people working to solve various crises in the world.
With HuffPo turning a decade old this year, AOL also announced “The HuffPost 10,” an initiative to create 10 short films about 10 people, things, or causes that are making the world a better place. The films will be developed and shot by 10 different filmmakers.
In total, AOL announced 17 original series at its NewFront presentation — though company executives were quick to state that it won’t be the only original programming AOL does this year. Again, the focus is to create content consistently year-round.
Beyond the episodic and serialized programming, AOL said it’s also producing a documentary film called “Once and for All,” which, as part of the Makers initiative, will focus on the progress made by women in the past few decades and how there still is more work to done.
AOL’s original programming from 2014 — which spanned 16 series — has accumulated more than 200 million views to date, according to internal data provided by AOL. The hope, obviously, is to build on that for the next round.
The company is off to a good start to its “NewFront year.” It has already sold sponsorships for five of its series to Verizon, according to Bob Lord, president of AOL.
As it currently stands, AOL’s network spans 2,000 partner sites and its AOL On video platform, which is available across 16 connected-TV and streaming devices including Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and Samsung, among others.
It’s been more than a year since Maker Studios was acquired by Disney. However, it took the digital network’s second NewFronts presentation to demonstrate what it plans to do with all of the IP it now has access to from its parent company.
Maker Studios announced that it will partner with several of its sister companies within the Disney family to produce original video and social content for millennials.
With Marvel, Maker said it will create digital content based on the studio’s “lore” and current releases. Content demonstrated at the event included live-action, animated, and even Minecraft videos of characters such as Iron Man and The Hulk.
With ESPN, Maker is partnering with the team behind the X-Games to create videos featuring its talent and various action-sports athletes. These videos will be rolled out throughout the year.
With ABC’s Lincoln Square Productions, Maker is developing multiple projects around politics and culture, starting with “American Woman,” an upcoming travel docu-series charting the influence of women in American history. All of the content produced in partnership with Lincoln Square will be released in the lead up to the 2016 election.
In another bit of Maker/Disney synergy, Maker is working with ABC Family on a docu-series called “I Am Maker,” which will document what it takes to become a YouTube star today. “Inspired” by the company’s own history, the series will follow a group of creators who live together and are mentored by top Maker talent.
Maker and Digitas are creating Digitas_Lab, a new initiative designed to co-develop, produce, and distribute content for the agency’s clients. Digitas has committed “multi-million” dollars to this program, according to Maker’s chief content officer Erin McPherson.
In a similar vein, Maker is partnering with LiquidThread and another MCN, MiTu Networks, to create all sorts of digital content for Latino millennials in the US. Financed by LiquidThread, which is spending more than $10 million dollars on the partnership, the content will span original series, social media programs, and various influencer-driven content.
For advertisers, Maker also unveiled Maker Select, a new ad solution for buying media across YouTube — not just for channels owned or managed by Maker. Developed in collaboration with Outrigger Media and its OpenSlate YouTube analytics platform, Maker Select will allow advertisers to buy ads across different channels and demographics, and will be guaranteed based on Nielsen OCR data. The solution is exclusively available to DigitasLBi, SMG, and other agency clients of Maker’s.
As for Maker Offers, the company’s automated solution that helps advertisers partner with Maker talent on custom content, Maker said it ran “hundreds” of campaigns through the solution since announcing it at last year’s NewFront. This
year, Maker Offers is expanding to include other social video platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Vine, and Instagram.
But that’s not all! Maker also signed some new talent and unveiled a bunch of shows it’s making with them and other, existing talent.
New Maker talent include celebrity fashion designer Rachel Zoe, actress Taryn Southern (who’s partnering with the MCN on a new late-night talk show), comedian Lisa Schwartz, filmmaker and actress Meghan Camarena (known as Strawburry17), Minecraft gamer Ssundee, pro-wrestling commentator Paul Heyman, Vine comedian Jerry Purpdrank, Vine star Christian DelGrosso, and fashion and beauty star SierraMarieMakeup.
On the programming side, series of note include the aforementioned “American Woman” and “I Am Maker,” as well as “Camp,” a new coming-of-age drama from James Franco’s Rabbit Bandini Productions. Developed out of an existing partnership Maker has with the actor’s production company as part of its ongoing “Labs” initiative, “Camp” will center on campers at a fictional summer camp outside of the Bay Area. It’s the first in a “line” of original content Maker plans to make with Rabbit Bandini.
YouTube music group The Gregory Brothers are partnering with Maker and digital studio Portal A on “Traveling Band,” a semi-scripted mockumentary series that will follow the band as the tour around the world and get into unexpected situations. Each episode will end with a music video.
Mode Media wants to be a video distribution engine for creators and a discovery destination for viewers. To do so, the company has launched a new site at Mode.com and a mobile app called Mode Stories that will offer more than 100,000 videos curated by some 10,000 creators and experts.“Video needs a platform for distribution in feeds,” said Mode founder and CEO Samir Arora from the stage. “What this isn’t is putting a video on a site or portal and hoping people come to view that content.”
The goal is to push video clips and written content natively through a new in-feed format available at Mode.com, which is powered by a new product called Mode Native. Feeds will be curated by experts such as professional editors, film and TV critics, journalists, video producers, and creators themselves, across more than 20 categories including movies, TV, music, sports, food, style, family, news, finance and business, tech and gadgets, science, and more.
When visiting the website or app, viewers will be presented a “personalized” feed based on their interests and the individuals they follow on Mode.
For creators and curators, the new Mode platform allows them to embed links of written content and videos from other websites into Mode. Content owners can “amplify” their content by creating “Mode Stories” that link back to their own video sources, the company said. If they are distributing series, Mode will automatically surface — or “broadcast” — that clip to users, instead of requiring users to find the clip on their own, according to Arora. “Our goal is to put all content creators on this platform,” he said.
For brands, they can partner with Mode Studios to create custom branded content and video or run ads that can then be plugged into relevant feeds. Advertisers will be able to target users by segments such as demo, behavioral interests, and feeds.
As part of the launch, Mode is also moving content from its websites and apps, including Glam.com, Brash.com, Tend.com, Foodie.com, and Bliss.com, to Mode.com. Content from the new sites will be available as channels on the new site.
On the programming front, Mode said it produced 18 original series last year, many of which it unveiled at its first NewFront event. Twelve of those series are returning, though the company did not specify which.
Mode also previewed several new series it’s producing for channels including Glam (fashion and beauty), Tend (parenting), and Brash (men). All of them have been greenlit and are in production, the company said. They include two shows with YouTubers ItsMyRayeRaye (716,000 subscribers) and Carly Cristman (214,000 subscribers). Others include “Making Room,” “Home Plate,” and “Our House” for Tend (parenting channel), and “Rad Pads” and “Counter Culture” for Brash (men’s channel).
Conde Nast Entertainment
In its third year presenting to advertisers as part of the annual NewFronts showcase, Conde Nast Entertainment gave no indication that it plans to slow down.
The programming division of Conde Nast said it will produce more than 2,500 videos in 2015, including virtual-reality content and a new scripted series in partnership with Party Over Here, a new comedy development venture from Fox and Andy Samberg’s The Lonely Island. For the sake of comparison, CNE said it has produced more than 4,000 videos to date.
With VR, CNE is partnering with Jaunt Studios to jointly produce two “narrative/plot-based” virtual series this year. Additional details will be announced at a later date, the company said.
As for “Tyler Zone,” the sci-fi comedy series will stream exclusively on The Scene later this year. It’s created by Keith Schofield and will star “Community”’s Danny Pudi. Executive producers include The Lonely Island trio of Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone.
CNE also unveiled its 19th video channel, Vida Belleza, which will focus exclusively on female Latino millennials. Launching later this year, Vida Belleza will offer a wide range of content spanning beauty, food, lifestyle, celebrity, culture, and docu-series.
“Like cable in the early days, the economics of premium digital video are maturing and enabling the industry to up its game,” said CNE president Dawn Ostroff. “CNE started out with a mandate to launch digital video channels for Conde Nast and, in just a few short years, has become a major player in the production, distribution, and innovation of digital video.”
She’s referring to The Scene, which CNE is expanding in a big way. The video hub will soon grow to 40 channels, featuring content from new syndication partners in comedy, music, and sports. The partners include Warner Music, Billboard, Pitchfork, LoveLive, Onion Inc. (The Onion, The AV Club, Clickhole), CollegeHumor, Red Bull, The Players’ Tribune, TEN: The Enthusiast Network, and SoulPancake. Existing partners include AOL, BuzzFeed, Flama, Forbes, and The Verge, among others.
In the other direction, CNE said it will be the first provider of video content to A Plus, a social news organization co-founded by Ashton Kutcher.