Mark Burnett, Michael Eisner's Vuguru to Produce Original Video Series for AOL

7:27 AM PST 10/03/2011 by Georg Szalai
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

UPDATED: Heidi Klum and Arianna Huffington are also among the online company's big names on a dozen new shows; AOL also plans to collaborate with Jennifer Lopez on entertainment news show Tiger Beat Entertainment.

NEW YORK - Pushing ahead with its goal of being a leading video content powerhouse, AOL Inc. on Monday unveiled a slate of original video programming consisting of more than 15 series targeting such audiences as women, men and teens.

The Web originals include about a dozen new programs and some shows previously seen on AOL. Company executives said this is probably AOL's biggest investment ever in video content, even though they wouldn't detail the size of the programming investment.

Several feature big media and entertainment names, such as Heidi Klum, who is starring in Heidi Klum on AOL, AOL's own Arianna Huffington, who will present a show called Fearless Living, Mark Burnett, who is bringing a previously announced digital take on CliffNotes to AOL, as well as Jackson Rathbone from Twilight and Aimee Teegarden from Friday Night Lights who will star in AIM High, an action series following a kid juggling high school with being a secret government agent.

Plus, AOL announced plans to collaborate with Jennifer Lopez, her company Nuyorican Productions and Believe Entertainment Group to launch Tiger Beat Entertainment, an entertainment news and lifestyle show for teens and young adults. It will be distributed through AOL and its teen network Cambio and will be produced at AOL’s Beverly Hills studio.

AOL Video is already one of the top 10 video platforms online with 43.9 million unique viewers, which AOL executives say compares well with Hulu's 28 million, and 403.6 million U.S. streams per month, according to comScore. The new video slate is designed to further strengthen the company's hand.

"We are really doubling down on original video creation," Ran Harnevo, senior vp of AOL Video, told The Hollywood Reporter.

"We have more than 400 million views, which is a huge number.

People are not aware of how scaleable AOL is. The next phase is to develop an original content slate of series that consumers want to see. We have around 10 to 15 million uniques a day coming to our portal, which is bigger than most TV outlets out there."

AOL executives said with the originals they want to reach an underserved market.

"You have a ton of user-generated video online and full-length TV shows that people are increasingly watching online now," Roy Sekoff, founding editor of the company's Huffington Post Media Group, told The Hollywood Reporter. "But there is a sweet spot in the middle that is premium content made specifically for the Web." He added that AOL wants to score with"addictive personalities and stories that stick."

AOL shares have hit new lows in recent weeks as investors have wondered if the company, led by chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong, would be able to improve its momentum in the face of continued challenges.

Some of the new video series are live as of Monday, with others set to roll out over the next several months.

AOL said that the video programming slate taps into 10 key industry categories, in which its sites rank number one, including tech, autos, food and home.

Harnevo also said that the video push will further allow the online company to connect advertisers with premium content. "Our focus is on producing programs that consumers want and creating an impactful nexus among advertisers, marketers and target audiences," he said.

How will AOL evaluate the success of shows? Harnevo said the company can look at views, time spent, Facebook activity, retweets and more. "After three to four episodes, we can make a decision," he explained. "Whatever works is going to be heavily invested in. And what doesn't work can be replaced with a new concept. It's the next evolution of programming."

Both executives highlighted that the Web allows for more flexibility in programming than TV and said that AOL wants to "disrupt" the existing programming landscape with its offerings.

Among advertisers that have already signed up are State Farm, which is AOL's partner on a show called The Tanning Effect.

Programs, many from AOL Studios, but also from Warner Bros., which is part of former corporate parent Time Warner, Michael Eisner's Vuguru and others, will be distributed across AOL Huffington Post Media Group sites.

Among the known franchises on the AOL video slate are:

You’ve Got, the one-minute daily series on AOL.com spotlighting notables from President Obama to movie stars, AOL Music’s recently relaunched music series Sessions,

Unscripted, which sees celebrity co-stars interview each other, MMA Hour, which looks at the mixed martial arts fighting world, and the Engadget Show, on which tech industry leaders and luminaries take the stage in front of tech enthusiasts.

Seen as one of AOL's big gets is its deal with TV producer Burnett, news of which first emerged last week.

"I worked with AOL on Gold Rush and enjoyed interacting with Tim Armstrong," Burnett told The Hollywood Reporter. "AOL has great platforms and is really making a commitment to online video, so working with them really makes sense."

AOL is hoping that the show will help revitalize struggling entertainment site Cambio, which targets teen and young adult audiences.

Asked if timing and frequency of the original Web shows will matter as much as time slots matter on TV, Sekoff said: "Frequency online is not like on TV. It's less about appointment than about how you present and promote it. It's not as much about frequency as about getting stickiness. If you come and watch one video, we also have this and this."

Here is a look at the slate of new AOL video series grouped by programs' target demos:

Women:
- Little Women Big Cars: Four moms navigate the comedy and drama of suburban life. Starring Ed Begley Jr., Antonio Sabato, Jr., Julie Warner and Kristy Swanson. Produced by Michael Eisner's Vuguru.
- A Supermodel Stole My Husband:
Makeover show, in which a frustrated wife enlists a supermodel to help transform her husband.
- Heidi Klum on AOL: "A guide to fabulous living for everyday women, including fashion, beauty, parenting, lifestyle, fitness and nutrition."
- Jocks & Jills: "ESPN meets The View in a fresh and funny sports talk show."
- Lost in Translation: Reality series about a woman looking to reclaim her Puerto Rican heritage.
- Fearless Living: Based on Huffington's book On Becoming Fearless, she looks at such issues as parenting, beauty, health, workplace issues, relationships, and aging gracefully.

General:
- The Tanning Effect:
Author Steve Stoute interviews entertainment icons and pop culture thought leaders, including Lady Gagaand Jay-Z.

Men:
- AutoBlog– The List:
Hosts who consider themselves car aficionados must tackle car challenges.
- The Interface:
Exclusive performances from up-and-coming artists.

Teens and young adults:
- CliffsNotes Films:
Short, animated, irreverent versions of literary classics.
Sony Pictures’ film Anonymous, which opens Oct. 28, is the show's exclusive sponsor for the first six episodes.
- AIM High:
Action series following Nick Green as he juggles high school with being a secret government agent.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com
Twitter: @georgszalai

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