AOL Explains The Long And Short Of It

AOL’s Dermot McCormack, president of its video and studios division, told NewFront attendees Tuesday that the content platform sees itself split into at least two major modes--one, for snackable, short content, the other for long form--as it tries to fit its programming for mobile and OTT screens. (For the record, he also mentioned a third, which he called story-telling.)

Formats are the new dayparts in the online biz, he and other AOL execs now say, so what works for mobile is different from what will work for an iPad or television screen. It seems about as useful a way to look at the figuration of online content as I’ve heard anybody offer.

With a wide array of programs, AOL always seems to be smart and visionary or just crass and commercial, which may be a handy way to split stuff up, as long as were inventing division. It’s also mainly been in the fact-based content business, and it claims an average one billion multi-platform views a month, from sites like Huffington Post and TechCrunch  and the new Players Tribune. It’s on Roku and Amazon Prime and Apple TV, so its content gets around one way or the other.

Arianna Huffington introduced one of AOL’s more promising ideas, “Now What with Ryan Duffy,” a series of planned documentaries led by the ex-Vice correspondent, about how to fix a pretty broken world. That’s part of a larger Huffington Post endeavor, “What’s Working” that has a daily presence on the site. Huffington was, of course, enthusiastic about the positive spin these projects put on the world’s screw-ups, and she said these programming ploys are so uplifting advertisers should want to be there. “There’s a theme here,” she said. “Actually two themes. What’s working and what’s sponsor-able.”

Last night, she was trying to take care of the latter.

ApjOL also announced a partnership with NBCUniversal so that AOL On will be able to share clips from many NBCUniversal networks. The two will also work together on possible joint productions using AOL “brand experts.” 

AOL announced a flurry of new projects and renewals, but probably none got a better reaction than “Act Like A Musician” in which AOL hopes to pair the “hottest” actors with their favorite rock bands, so that after rehearsals, the star gets to perform on stage. That was the one announced content project that drew audible reaction from the crowd at the unfinished 54th floor of the new  World Trade Center 4 where AOL held its event. But there were some swoony buyers hoping that when AOL announced a new season of a tech program, “Beyond the Horizon With Jared Leto,” that the actor--who’s also an investor and active hand in the tech biz--would be coming to the stage. He was, but only via video, and Leto was wearing a big furry hat and sunglasses, so disguised he felt obliged to stress it was really him.

The shortest of the short form, no doubt, is “AOL Rise,” a daily newscast (sorta hardly) that is just a couple of minutes long, and, to my mind not worth a second of your time. But AOL figures some 80% of millennials grab from their smartphone first thing in the morning and building an AOL habit will work. It’s been around since late January, and I’m told that while AOL sees it as a work in progress, it likes where it’s headed.  That little show and the new daily sports comedy show, “2 Point Lead,” because both are daily, greatly expands AOL’s production credits from about 80 pieces of content in the past to 3,600 now.

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