April 18, 2007
AOL Morphing into Online TV Network with Significant Original Content

For some time, we've followed the transition of AOL from an Internet service provider into a branded channel of its own. This week, Steven Zeitchik from Variety has proclaimed them "officially a TV network."

As part of the television upfronts, AOL has made an announcement of their own, that they are going to be releasing a series of AOL shows that would be built around an advertising model that would position them as an alternative to traditional broadcast and cable channels. Among their projects is a continued relationship with Mark Burnett with a followup to Gold Rush. The new project will be called Gold Rush Goes Hollywood.

Also among the biggest AOL projects is a partnership with DreamWorks providing a substantial amount of supplementary material for the movie studio's upcoming potential blockbuster Shrek the Third, which will involve a partnership with Burnett Productions and DreamWorks for a variety of games related to the movie.

Another project, called iLand will start with an online community where players compete to become the leader of the group; the plan is for this game to turn into reality television, broadcast through AOL, where contestants will actually move to an island and play these same power-dominance games.

There will also be an Ellen DeGeneres Show tie-in through Time Warner's Telepictures which will feature a significant amount of user-generated content and even use some of that for DeGeneres' main show, and Leeza Gibbons presents a game show that involves both player competing on video with other players competing at home, called Million Dollar Bill.

Zeitchik writes, "Many of the programs skirt the line between interactive gaming and nonscripted programming; they can be categorized as either reality television with consumer participation or an online game with video components."

According to Elizabeth Montalbano with IDG, Sara Lee has already signed up as a substantial sponsor for the Shrek content.

Back in October, I wrote about AOL's expansion into movie downloads and a bluegrass and western lifestyle programming, and I have written about AOL's all-soaps channel, Spanish-language programming, and other categories of content from the beta launch of AOL Video back in the fall. AOL has also struck interesting deals to get content from major television providers, such as it providing the first look at some NBC shows before their fall debut on broadcast TV.