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AOL Looks to Long-Form for the Future of Online Video

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While AOL has done an impressive job recreating itself as a source for premium-quality original online video, its efforts so far have been mostly in shorter content. That’s about to changes. On April 1, AOL announced that it’s going to experiment with long-form by adapting the Israeli reality show “Connected.” The U.S. version should debut in January, 2015.

StreamingMedia.com sat down with Frank Besteiro, AOL’s vice president and head of business development and partnerships for video, at the 2014 NAB conference to talk about the change in direction.

The move owes much to how viewer’s online video consumption habits are changing. With the rise of tablets and the growth of subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services such as Netflix, viewers are leaning back and watching longer content. The move is also about prestige, Besteiro admits: Some of those long-form streaming originals, such as “House of Cards,” get attention and Emmys.

One thing that isn’t driving the change is advertising. Short-form videos are ad-friendly, and advertisers aren’t asking for longer content. For AOL, long-form is an experiment.

“We’ll dabble in long-form,” Besteiro says, growing the business as it matures. The company needs to approach this with a plan, he adds, so that it doesn’t become a high-profile failure that AOL never talks about again. AOL-watchers know that the company has a few of those in its history.

As the 2014 NewFront season approaches, Besteiro says AOL’s approach will be the same as last year: creating online originals with A-list content. Unscripted shows perform better online, he notes. One of last year’s new shows, #CandidlyNicole, a reality show starring Nicole Ritchie, was recently picked up by VH1. Yesterday, AOL announced a second online season for #CandidlyNicole, as well as second seasons for City Ballet, Hardwired 2.0, and The Future Starts Here. However, 11 online original series, including shows starring Rocco DiSpirito, Jonathan Adler, and Hank Azaria have so far not been renewed. Besteiro said DiSpirito’s show did relatively well but not amazing, and that an announcement was forthcoming about Azaria’s show.

At its upcoming 2014 NewFront, AOL will try to erase the line between online video and TV, Besteiro says, so that it’s all simply video. He wants to change ad-buyers’ outlooks and get TV advertisers to better understand video. Most of AOL’s ad commitments are in the form of pre-roll ads, although the company does some work creating integrations for brand advertisers. Besteiro notes that creating branded content means walking a fine line. AOL had a misfire when it created a branded program for a hotel advertiser, he says, declining to name the client. The result looked like a seven-minute long walking tour of the property, and viewers were not impressed. While AOL will continue to offer brand integrations with original video, Besteiro is cautious about the approach. Branded videos are more popular with advertisers in Europe, he adds.

The 2014 NewFront season will be bigger than ever, Besteiro says, with newcomer Condé Nast taking part, and YouTube and Yahoo holding larger events. As for what AOL will announce, Besteiro won’t give any hints.

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