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AOL Offers a Parade of Stars and Inspirational Series at NewFront

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What kind of a company trots out six-time Olympic medal winner Bode Miller to quickly introduce an online video series, then rushes him offstage in about a minute? AOL, that's who. Trying to tighten up the pacing of its 2014 NewFront, AOL put the stars on fast forward, whooshing them on the stage, then off again. If attendees blinked, they risked missing Sarah Jessica Parker, Kevin Nealon, Portia de Rossi, Zoe Saldana, James Franco (appearing by video), and more.

But what else could AOL do? It offers so many star-driven series that simply introducing them all was bogging down its newfronts. This year, AOL introduced 12 new series and 4 returning series.

Highlights of the slate include "Kevin Nealon's Laugh Lessons," in which comedians teach children how to tackle problems with humor; "My Hero," where celebrities (including producer Saldana) pay tribute to one person who changed their lives, and "That's Racist," with comic Mike Epps looking for the roots of stereotypes. The must-watch show of the year, however, is "So Much More," which tells the story of Laura Jane Grace -- formerly known as Tom Gabel, lead singer of Against Me! -- as well as other members of the transgender community. Grace appeared on stage and sang one song.

AOL's returning series include "City.Ballet" (executive produced by Parker); "Hardwired 2.0" (with iJustine); and "#CandidlyNicole" with Nicole Richie. In the evening's oddest pairing, Richie appeared with AOL Platforms CEO Bob Lord to hype programmatic buying.

AOL's theme for the evening was "connect," and the announced series show the company following the same path as in previous years: AOL produces unscripted shows that are mostly inspirational and mostly targeted to female viewers. While other online broadcasters -- including Yahoo, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon -- lead with scripted content, AOL wants its shows to offer slices of real life.

At the end of the presentation, AOL CEO and chairman Tim Armstrong took the stage with Steve Hasker, president of global product leadership for Nielsen, to announce that AOL's 16 original shows will be measured by Nielsen ratings comparable to those used by TV shows. This Nielsen beta release will offer GPRs that show audience reach by age and gender. The measurements should make it easier for ad buyers to see the value in online video and to compare online and television results. This is "the era of measurement everywhere," Armstrong said.

The AOL NewFront is always one of the highlights of NewFront week, and this year's was no exception. While the remote Brooklyn location left a few guests grousing, the slate of new and returning content gives buyers and viewers alike much to look forward to.

Tim Armstrong at the 2014 AOL NewFront

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