NewFronts: AOL Video Exec Explains the Move to Year-Round Programming

Courtesy of Viacom
Dermot McCormack

AOL announced Tuesday that it had picked up second season of 'Park Bench With Steve Buscemi' and 'Making a Scene with James Franco.'

AOL feted ad buyers at the new 4 World Trade Center on Tuesday with sweeping views of New York creating a dramatic backdrop to the evening. 

Video was the focus of the NewFront presentation and featured first-time presenter Dermot McCormack, who took over as head of AOL Video and Studios in October. The shift in strategy under McCormack was palpable, culminating in his announcement that AOL is doing away with a "NewFront season" in favor of producing programming year round. 

McCormack also announced plans for a renewed focus on video series AOL-owned brands such as The Huffington Post and TechCrunch. In addition, the platform has added music discovery show Rising Artists and a reality series called Act Like a Musician that shows celebrities joining their favorite bands. Other news from the evening included the renewal of Park Bench with Steve Buscemi and Making a Scene with James Franco

AOL's NewFront came one month after it premiered its first long-form effort, a docuseries called Connected that follows a group of New Yorkers on their journeys through life, but no new long-form projects were announced. 

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with McCormack ahead of the show and the Ireland native, who spent several years at MTV, opened up about AOL's shifting video strategy and one of the shows he's most excited about. 

Why are you abandoning the NewFront season?
I don't know that we're abandoning it because we're here. But the idea is that we're going into NewFront year. Content is being made and consumed on a 365-day schedule. The idea that everything still works on TV schedules is not really taking into account what's going on in the world, particularly from a consumer perspective. That's where content-365 comes from. It's the idea that in the morning you grab your phone and check your content on there and in the afternoon read your iPad, but in the evening you still want to plop down on your couch and watch your TV. 

Why no new long-form shows like Connected?
When I greenlight a show, I'm thinking about it in terms of how we could repurpose the content in many places. Act Like a Musician in one of my favorite new shows. I can make a five minute version of it, a seven minute version or a 22 minute, TV-ready version. So when we look at content, we look at how we can make it modular. When we're making it we shoot it with that in mind, so we can push different versions out. 

What have you learned from Connected?
We've increased engagement by a really solid amount. That's what we wanted to do: Could we make people sit and watch a video that was longer because it had a story? We're cautiously excited about where we can go with longer-form programming.

What changes  have you made to the video strategy since you joined AOL?
I pushed into the mix the idea that we don't just have one brand, we have many really great brands. We have The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Engadget, Build and Makers. One of the things that I really wanted to do was shine a light on the amazing brands that we have. That gives us the ability to make content across the company and tailor it for different brands. That's the portfolio approach. 

You seem to be doing away with the old AOL model of attaching a celebrity to every short-form series. Why?
It goes back to our content-365 strategy. We want to be in the conversation on a daily basis. More than half our content this year is home-grown, home-produced content. There are a ton of daily shows. Premium, high-touch celebrity shows are great places for brands. They still love to be associated with those high-touch projects. But we wanted to make different types of shows to mirror the way that you're actually consuming content.

Many of your competitors have moved into scripted. Why haven't you?
Scripted is very expensive. High-end scripted is a very tough category. You have HBO and Netflix. I think you really have to get the right project. We've focused on what was not being covered well in the world and certain genres. When we launched Connected we liked it because we felt like reality TV had gotten to a point where it lacked stories and characters. Connected brought true docu-reality storytelling and characters. I'm not saying we won't get into scripted. If we got the right project, we'd totally go in, but we wouldn't make a super expensive show.