'V' is for online video, as Eisner sees it

The former Disney chief says success for his new Vuguru and other Net start-ups rides on quality, not technology.

Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner unveiled on Monday his latest project: Vuguru, an independent production company devoted to online video.

Eisner is a major stakeholder in online video start-up Veoh, but he envisions Vuguru as a cross-platform phenomenon that will spread from browsers to mobile phones to televisions. The first Vuguru production, a serial mystery for teens called that was created in conjunction with online video company Big Fantastic, premieres April 2.

Eisner spoke with CNET News.com shortly after the announcement about Vuguru, officially a project of his investment firm, The Tornante Co., to elaborate on his vision for online video.

Q: This ties in very nicely to the most recent Wired magazine cover, about what it calls "snack culture," or entertainment in smaller portions. Obviously, Prom Queen with its 90-second clips, is an example of that. Do Vuguru's interests go beyond this short, serialized content?
Eisner: Yeah. Actually, the next show that we're doing after that will be either five- or seven-minute pieces. It's another story-driven show with characters, comedy, drama, and so forth, professionally produced. The right length of time for that (production) is more like five to seven minutes. And we have some in development that will be more like 15 minutes. It is what the story dictates it should be.

Do you think Vuguru will eventually do anything with live broadcasts, specifically of collegiate and professional sports? Obviously, there's a lot of advertising revenue there.
Eisner: Who knows what it will actually do. This is the beginning of our commitment to original production, so the basic thrust here is not simply user-generated or live sports or specials or anything like that. The overall strategy is that the time has come for the Internet to be a distribution platform for what used to be called filmed entertainment.

The inaugural series, Prom Queen, is geared toward a female teenage audience. Are there any other demographics that Vuguru is specifically targeting in the near future?
Eisner: I've never done that in my career. No matter what division I was running at ABC or Paramount or Disney, you come up with what you think is a good idea that interests you, and you put it out there. If it happens to be more targeted for men or women or teenagers or young adults, so be it. As far as Prom Queen is concerned, an interesting idea was presented to me from these guys at Big Fantastic, who had done Sam Has 7 Friends, and it happens to be that our first effort in this space is younger people, high school, et cetera.

I'd like you to think there was an overall strategy, but I've never had an overall strategy. It's simply what sounds good or funny or emotional or sad or mysterious.

I'd like you to think there was an overall strategy, but I've never had an overall strategy. It's simply what sounds good or funny or emotional or sad or mysterious. That's what I'm interested in. The platform is so gigantic, the Internet is so gigantic, that very much like broadcast television was 40 years ago, they don't have to be targeted. Yes, young people are early adopters, but that doesn't mean today--as the Internet's becoming more and more established--that more groups, more age demographics are not committed. And Veoh has the capability--and will over time--to move what's coming in on broadband to the television set or any other device you may have.

With regard to the migration of broadband video to other devices like mobile phones or living room TVs, are there currently any partnerships in the works for Vuguru?
Eisner: We're definitely going to be distributing promptly on a mobile partner, and that will be probably announced this week or next week. We will distribute every possible way we can. Veoh has the capability to transpose or transfix or whatever "trans" you want to talk about, from your computer right to your television screen. This is for earlier-than-early adopters, but eventually it will be easy and simple, and that will be just another way to watch television at home. It'll just be a different distribution platform.

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