NEW YORK For AOL, the push into long-form programming has taken on a new reality via a Web site called AOL True Stories.
The newly launched property offers documentary films before they open in theaters and between theatrical and DVD/TV releases.
The site makes money through download fees and advertising and extends AOL's effort "to engage audience and build community," said client creative development director Stephanie Sharis.
To corral traffic, True Stories will provide a brace of interactive offerings, including blogs, chat rooms, message boards, director Q&As and video uploads intended "to get the audience to react to the film that they've seen," Sharis said.
Users can pay downloads fees ranging from $1.99-$14.99 or stream ad-sponsored content for free. They can also order DVDs at distributors' linked sites.
For now, the ad menu includes 30-second pre-roll and mid-stream ads, as well as banners from Ford and H&R Block.
As the library swells, brands will also be able to sponsor the overall channel and marquees grouped by theme.
"What we're looking for are titles that have an inherent community, like baseball, politics or very broad topics of our time, said Sharis. "We're not looking to roll out the one-size-fits-all titles."
King of the Hill, a documentary about former Chicago Cubs pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, passed curatorial muster because of its appeal to "fans of a certain band of subject," she said. Titles such as August in the Empire State and Shadow Company are also on the slate.
True Stories bows with 20 titles and plans to release 12 more each month.
"It's a powerful tool of awareness," said Sharis. "The traditional word-of-mouth screening that you'll have in certain markets has migrated online at zero cost to the distributor.
"Instead of renting a theater and worrying about crowd control, now the whole effort becomes literally a flip," she said, "which is especially important for smaller distributors who have limited P&A funds."
To marshal audience for the site and its new releases, True Stories will leverage sibling properties like AOL News, AOL Sports and Moviefone.