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Eisner seeks to reprise role of content guy on the Web

The former Disney chief plans to post 90-second episodes of an original series, `Prom Queen,' on YouTube and elsewhere.

March 13, 2007|Joseph Menn | Times Staff Writer

Michael Eisner is making entertainment again, this time with shows that aren't even as long as the credits of the ones he made as a top Hollywood mogul.

The former Walt Disney Co. chief executive said his Tornante Co. will shoot 80 episodes of a new series called "Prom Queen," each lasting just 90 seconds. The series will start showing online April 2 at Vuguru.com, YouTube and Veoh.com, a video sharing service in which Eisner is an investor.

Hoping to generate an audience with original programming for the Web, Eisner, 65, is attempting what scores of companies have failed to do. Internet users have been more interested in watching movies, TV shows and pure amateur videos.

Despite the popularity of user-generated content sites such as YouTube, Eisner believes more of the professional work will eventually win out.

"The marathon winners are going to be those companies that excel in content," he said in an interview.

Eisner is calling his new studio Vuguru and has enlisted Fiji water and online florist Teleflora.com as sponsors.

Eisner said he was already at work on a second series, with five-minute episodes. and that he enjoys being back in the mix, hashing out story ideas and cutting deals.

"My hope is that every young filmmaker with an idea will call in," Eisner said. "How we're going to deal with that, I don't know."

Eisner wouldn't discuss the budget for the initial project but said it would be reasonable for the medium.

"We're not making `Pirates 4,' " he said. "This is not an outrageously expensive endeavor."

With the proliferation of broadband Internet access, more companies are experimenting with original shows to supplement the popular amateur material.

"We're hearing about pitches and proposals and treatments for this segment of the market," said Raghav Gupta, vice president of partnerships at Brightcove, another syndicator of professional Web shows.

"It's not the production values of television," Gupta added, "but it isn't `Cat falling off the couch.' "

Indeed, the key to making the economics work is keeping costs down, said analyst Mike Vorhaus of Frank N. Magid Associates.

"You could have a decent little business," Vorhaus said. "It's going to fit in there -- along with billions of streams from YouTubers and billions that have been stolen and billions that ABC and Fox are putting out there."

The digital studio is the latest of Eisner's ventures. Directors of Topps Co. recently endorsed a $385-million takeover of the sports trading card company by an investment group led by Eisner, but some directors and investors have argued that the offer was too low.

joseph.menn@latimes.com

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