The animated children's series featuring Natasha--a princess, student, and spy--debuted in September 2003 on KOL, AOL's channel for youngsters. So far, KOL has aired 20 five-minute Webisodes, which have been streamed a total of one million times. The show was created for AOL by independent company Animation Collective.
The deal marks the first time that AOL has licensed fictional content it developed, said Malcolm Bird, AOL's senior vice president-general manager for kids and teens programming. "We're now reversing the tables in a way," he said. In the past, AOL has streamed content from some television programs, such as "Jack and Bobby."
While AOL has licensed original content before, those deals didn't involve finding and cultivating talent to the same extent as with "Princess Natasha." For example, in the past, AOL has streamed music-related shows that were developed and packaged for the Web, and then licensed the content to cable network Fuse. But those shows mainly featured established musicians, as opposed to talent discovered by AOL.
AOL also has arranged to release all 100 minutes of the "Princess Natasha" spots on video and DVD. And Time Warner's Little, Brown Books for Young Readers will publish eight Natasha books.
Many industry observers have speculated that rival Internet company Yahoo!, headed by former Warner Bros. Chief Terry Semel, aspires to develop original content for television. Yahoo! in January said it would open an office in Santa Monica, Calif. for its Media Group, to be led by former ABC executive Lloyd Braun, hired by the company in November.
One of Yahoo!'s most visible efforts to date to develop its own content involved striking a deal with JibJab, the team behind last summer's animated political satire "This Land." Yahoo! also has licensed content from established television studios. In September, the company made a deal with reality-TV show producer Mark Burnett; earlier this month, Yahoo! streamed the Showtime program "Fat Actress."