AOL, Microsoft lure advertisers with TV-style shows

Wed Apr 23, 2014 3:54pm EDT
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By Jennifer Saba and Lisa Richwine

NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Technology powerhouses like Microsoft Corp and AOL Inc are flexing their muscles as storytellers, parading TV network-style shows before advertisers at an annual digital content showcase in New York next week.

With an eye on the big bucks such shows can command, Microsoft will trot out a soccer reality show called "Every Street United." Sony Corp's digital network Crackle will serve up Jerry Seinfeld's "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" and AOL is presenting a documentary drama about five New Yorkers called "Connected."

This is a big shift from the short Web episodes many tech companies have presented for the last two years at the week-long "NewFronts" event - modeled after the annual "upfronts" where broadcast and cable TV channels show their wares to Madison Avenue.

Yahoo Inc is also looking for longer original programming it can unveil at the showcase, three people familiar with those efforts said on condition on of anonymity because the deals have yet to be finalized.

Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer said on Yahoo's earnings call last week that the company plans to make fewer, more focused investments in original content.

"We are going to see more original content overall and no doubt everyone is working to package their offerings like TV because they have their eyes on TV dollars," said Kris Magel, chief investment officer at Initiative, the media buying division of Interpublic Group of Cos.

But TV-scaled ad spending is unlikely to flow to online video commercials that usually run before and during a program, advertisers and analysts said.

"Online video just doesn't offer nearly the reach that broadcast does," said David Bank, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets.   Continued...

The Microsoft logo is seen at their offices in Bucharest March 20, 2013. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel