Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian Joins The Verge to Host Web Series (Exclusive)

9:00 AM PST 07/01/2013 by Erik Hayden
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Alexis Ohanian speaking at a SXSW panel in March 2013.

The entrepreneur teams with the tech site for a ten-part series on startup culture.

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian is teaming up with Joshua Topolsky's The Verge for a 10-part web series that tells the stories behind the early days of New York-based tech startups. The launch of the show continues an expansion by the tech-oriented site, launched in fall 2011 by staffers who left AOL's Engadget, into becoming a destination for original, TV-quality online video. 

The series, Small Empires With Alexis Ohanian, will soon begin production with a July 29 debut planned for the first episode. Ohanian described the show in elevator pitch-style as "Inside the Actor’s Studio meets Dirty Jobs for tech in New York." 

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Small Empires will focus on the host's conversations with other successful tech entrepreneurs about their formative days as well as with users of the platforms. Startups that may be featured in the series include familiar names like Etsy and Uber.

"It’s more like a couple friends just having a drink together talking about the early days," Ohanian told The Hollywood Reporter about the tone of the series. He had pitched cable and network television before bringing the idea to the web-native company after an appearance on one of the site's shows, On the Verge, last fall.

"I want to humanize them more," Ohanian said of the founders he'll be chatting with for the show. Each episode will be in the eight- to 10-minute range and will be shot on location in New York City.

The show won't simply be for the tech-minded, said Chad Mumm, creative director at Vox Media Studios. "The one thing we didn’t want to do was a show that was like a ‘startup person’ show. We want to make a show that was appealing to a general audience." 

Vox Media Studios, which handles video for SB Nation and Polygon along with The Verge, will produce Empires. Ohanian's show will be the fourth weekly program -- along with On the Verge, Vergecast and Top Shelf -- added to the tech site's roster. The Verge currently features at least 20 to 25 pieces of new video content per week with that number increasing during conferences like E3 or CES, Mumm estimated.

"People are now starting to think, ‘I can get really high-quality, really interesting video content in a place other than my television’ and they have started to expect that from us," said Verge editor in chief Joshua Topolsky, who listed Funny or Die and Vice Media as innovators in the space.

The field is also getting competitive: Conde Nast's Wired magazine debuted a slate of web series in May. Unlike a legacy publication, however, original video was built into the Verge since its inception.

"When we started The Verge and hired the vast majority the team ... one of the big things that they wanted to do when they started the site was to have video kind of be enmeshed with the editorial process from the very beginning," said Mumm. The brand recently consolidated all its video content into a single hub with channels featuring shows. 

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The site, which counts 13 million unique monthly visitors, according to internal Google Analytics, has 15 Vox Media staffers devoted to producing and editing video. Small Empires will be given resource investment on par with the media property's flagship show, On the Verge. Vox Media is looking to partner with an advertiser to sponsor the show. 

The series will mark the hosting debut of Ohanian, who previously helped spearhead a documentary, Silicon Prairie, which premiered online in March. And Small Empires may have life beyond its initial 10 episodes. “Alexis’s show is going to have a run. We’re thinking of it from a seasonal standpoint.” Topolsky said.

Email: erik.hayden@thr.com Twitter: @Erik_Hayden

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