/// AOL Doubles Down on Web Shows with James Franco, Steve Buscemi

April 29, 2014  |  Media Week

AOL says it racked up 150 million views on its original video content and more than 75 million unique viewers last year, but isn't standing pat. The company will announce 16 unscripted Web-only programs that brim with Hollywood talent at its NewFronts presentation on Tuesday evening. Its roster of celebrity partners entails James Franco, Steve Buscemi, Zoe Saldana, Mike Epps and other household names. “We're kind of echoing and doubling down this year,” Ron Harnevo, president of video, told Adweek ahead of its event in Brooklyn, N.Y. “We decided to be very loyal to the editorial voice, pick authentic voices and choose remarkable stories.” And, it's going bigger and better. In addition to more series, AOL is ratcheting up the number of stars on its digital video slate, hoping to draw advertisers. “Everything you’re going to see is around celebrities,” Harnevo said. “We're trying to get people with a meaningful digital footprint that can help us push the shows and market the shows. These are stars that really have a digital audience that they can connect with.” Shows will include Making A Scene with Franco , where the Academy Award nominated actor and his friends will recreate classic movie scenes with their own spin. “James Franco is kind of the same mindset as us,” Harnevo said. “He’s very plugged to a social audience.” Buscemi will talk to random New Yorkers on the street in a program dubbed Park Bench. Saldana is presenting My Hero, a show where actors will surprise the friend or family member who helped shape them into the person they are today. Epps will host That's Racist, a program that will look into the history and facts that lead to common racial stereotypes. The company will also be adapting the Israel hit series Connected, where participants self-document their lives for six months, for the U.S. audience. The talent-filled programs are joining #CandidlyNicole with Nicole Richie and City Ballet with Sarah Jessica Parker, both of which AOL renewed in April. Citibank and Verizon have already signed on as sponsors for their forthcoming seasons.

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