AOL, Vuguru to Create Six Scripted Web Series

AOL is putting a major stake in the ground in support of original Web video content.

The company has announced a partnership with the independent studio Vuguru to launch at least six new scripted series over the next year.

While the two partners haven’t released many details on the new shows, their aim is to “set a new bar for original online entertainment,” according to a press release. Each series will consist of 90 minutes of content in total, broken up by TV-like commercial breaks preceded by cliffhangers—possibly implying these shows will be dramatic in nature.

Vuguru, which was founded by former Disney CEO Michael Eisner in 2007, has maintained a low profile of late, but has been one of the most aggressive online programmers—albeit with limited success. The company is responsible for the ambitious daily teen soap Prom Queen, which was renewed for a second season, as well as the novel prequel Foreign Body, which was considered a flop.

Since the recession took hold, the market for original scripted series on the Web dried up, as viewers failed to become habitual viewers and the ad industry lost interest. But lately original Web productions have been making a comeback, such as Yahoo’s popular Who Knew? news program.

Just recently, AOL rolled out a trio of new regularly scheduled series on its home page, including You’ve Got.

But outside of venues like Sony’s Crackle, which scored a modest success with the action series The Bannen Way, TV-esque comedies and dramas have been hard to find online. Clearly Vuguru and AOL see an appetite for such content with high production values.

“Until now, there’s been a gap in the online video consumer experience between user-generated video and the high production values of TV and film,” said AOL chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong. “In joining forces with Vuguru and other premier studios and production companies, AOL is uniquely able to bridge that gap by bringing top quality, original video to the millions of users who come to our site each day.
Vuguru’s president Larry Tanz sees the deal as a key endorsement for the burgeoning medium. “A lot of people have struggled to figure this out, yet people are out there consuming premium content on Hulu and through Netflix in big numbers,” he said. But since the recession, “things just slowed down among distributors. A lot of distributors found it expensive and hard to do. AOL’s really putting some skin in the game.”