AOL’s Video Hat Trick: A Slate Of Original Content, Be On Creative Studio, And A Deal With FreeWheel + Mediaocean For Multiscreen Ad Buys

Online video is booming, and today AOL (owner of TechCrunch) unveiled three new initiatives that spell out how it plans to tackle it: 15 original, unscripted shows; a new creative studio, Be On, to create branded videos; and a deal with FreeWheel and Mediaocean to add in AOL’s video inventory to its platform, so that media buyers looking for multiscreen investments across TV and online video can include AOL in the mix.

The news was unveiled at the company’s 2013 Digital Content NewFront event, the upfront event where AOL presents its strategy for the year ahead to key advertisers and agencies.

The slate of content is not AOL’s move into Netflix-style dramas (for now, at least). Instead, it plays on the network of sites that AOL already owns in the news and information space, which also includes other tech sites like Engadget as well as the Huffington Post. Up to now the AOL On network, the video network that AOL launched last year to span all of those sites and more (the videos go to YouTube and elsewhere) has been going pretty strong, with some 8 billion views in 2012. “We think we’ve reached the point at which it makes sense to produce more, to give us a more distinct voice,” Tal Simantov, GM of AOL On said. The list of shows includes “Fatherhood,” centered around Hank Azaria and his experiences as a first-time father; and “City.Ballet”, produced by Sarah Jessica Parker, covering the cut-throat world of the New York City Ballet. A preview of the video content is at the bottom of this post.

Simantov wouldn’t say how much AOL is investing in this but says that it will be in the “double-digits, an interesting number.”

One reason that AOL is spinning out more content is because of a growing audience for the material, but it is also looking to sell significantly more ads against it.

Part of that will be coming from the new Be On studio — this is the company’s branded content business, a creative studio that will partner with advertisers and agencies to produce branded content that combines its goViral acquisition with video distribution across AOL’s own network of sites plus third-party sites like YouTube, and AOL Studios production. The offering includes production, distribution, and analytics to measure how they perform.

The move for content companies to move further into video ad production, leveraging their reputation with other content, is part of a wider trend — just yesterday, Vox Media also announced the formation of Vox Creative, a similar initiative. Today, AOL announced the first customer for its service — Team Roma — the Italian football team that is planning a media assault in an attempt to become the next big international media sports brand, not unlike Manchester United or Real Madrid, both of which make more from their branded goods and selling rights to their games than they do from ticket sales to those events.

The third announcement AOL made today for the partnership with FreeWheel and Mediaocean will see AOL tap into the wider market for video ad buys, with ad buyers now able to buy against not just broadcast and pay-TV content, but online video content as well, through a multiscreen ad buying platform being launched by FreeWheel and Mediaocean called FourFronts. Given that the vast majority of ad spend today still goes to areas like television, it’s initiatives like that that will give digital players more of a look in to those budgets. And it’s also a significant move to further defragment the advertising landscape.

As Tim Armstrong, the CEO of AOL puts it, it’s also a sign of how the “screen” that people use to consume video is no longer just a TV, and that video is no longer just television.

“The device on which consumers view video no longer defines the type of content they’re watching; it’s purely a screen,” he said today. “But until now, buyers have not had an apples-to-apples comparison when it comes to buying video on the Web and TV. The industry needs to adopt standards between traditional broadcasting and video streams on the Web to create more opportunities in the buying market. FourFronts addresses a pressing need in our industry and will place AOL at the forefront of this shifting tide, getting us one step closer to bridging the gap between premium digital video and TV.”

Michael O’Connor, global director for business at AOL On, notes that “This will mean that we won’t be seen anymore as segregated buckets.” Since this initiative is just getting announced now, he says that AOL is not yet sharing a target number for how much AOL expects to see going through the platform. “The decision making only starts now,” he says.