AOL Pauses to Rethink Live Video Programming

HuffPost Live Soldiers On While AOL Live Is On Hold

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AOL Live is still not live.

AOL has already made a substantial commitment to live programming on the web with HuffPost Live, but five months after AOL announced a second live-streaming video network under its own brand name, the exec in charge of AOL Live has left the company and the debut of its flagship show has been postponed, as first reported by Politico.

HuffPost Live, meanwhile, is also getting a re-think. A deal to distribute the network on Mark Cuban's AXS TV has been put on hold due to technical and programming issues.

Although live video is a staple of TV, it remains relatively rare on the web. AOL embraced the "live" concept a year ago as it attempted to expand its reach in original video, but it's unclear how far it can take it or how large live audiences can be in the diffuse environment of the web.

"The business model from conception was always that the [on-demand video] is the today play and that live is the future play," said Roy Sekoff, HuffPost Live's president and co-creator.

The question is whether the delays represent a setback or a referendum on the concept itself. "The one thing about appointment viewing, everything is moving nonlinear," said Horizon Media Senior VP-Director of Research Brad Adgate.

"We know that our viewers, at times, want to experience and participate in the excitement of a particular moment or event in real time. That's why we're committed to live programming as part of our long-term plans," said an AOL spokesperson.

AOL's 'future' play
The AOL Live show was to be a two-hour "love child between a morning talk show and late-night show," AOL Live's then-president Nathan Richardson told Ad Age in September. He left the company in early November, less than three months after joining, and did not respond to interview requests for this article.

Mr. Richardson had hired former MTV producer Bryan Terry to helm the program that was eventually titled "770 Live," after the address of AOL's New York headquarters, and planned to premiere it in late October.

An AOL Live test-run did air around Halloween, but since then the channel has been syndicating video from HuffPost Live, AOL's original reality series starring Nicole Richie and clips from the AOL Live casting auditions held over the summer.

AOL Live syndicating HuffPost Live while own content on hold
AOL Live syndicating HuffPost Live while own content on hold

HuffPost Live, which debuted in September of 2012, is reaching 5.1 million unique desktop viewers a month, according to ComScore. AOL says the average HuffPost Live viewer watches 20 minutes of the 12-hour livestream. HuffPost Live notched 21 million on-demand video views during the second week of November.

But HuffPost Live, and the live web video market in general, still hasn't made a big impression with marketers. "I don't think live video is large enough yet where it's a completely separate conversation than what you're doing with your regular preroll or regular video objectives," said Danielle Sporkin, senior manager of portfolio management at UM. "It's a tactic within larger conversations versus saying, 'We want to do a live buy online.'"

Strategy shift
Unlike HuffPost Live, AOL Live was to be more about scheduled shows focused on lifestyle and entertainment. But in the past year, HuffPost Live has changed course and embraced more of that model as well.

Early on "we said maybe a bit too vociferously, 'We don't do shows, and we don't do a regularly programmed thing.' It turns out that I think people do respond to that [more traditional programming]," said Mr. Sekoff. Now the network is "experimenting with more special, longer lead-time segments, things not as much driven by the news cycle," he said, pointing to the recently introduced series on gun violence in America.

The syndication deal with Mr. Cuban's AXS TV isn't dead, but it's in a holding pattern as HuffPost Live rethinks its own programming strategy. Originally, AXS agreed to carry six hours of live programming, but but there were technical difficulties with the live stream at the outset, and Mr. Cuban is pushing for more scheduled shows focused on pop culture content."We're moving toward more set programming and refillable programming" that won't necessarily be held to a rigid schedule but will be easier to promote and get people to tune in, Mr. Sekoff said

"Mark [Cuban] is very interested in the pop culture-entertainment-music space, and we certainly do our fair share of coverage of entertainment and celebrities ... That's what I think AXS is all about in terms of their vision for their programming, so that's the space that we're looking at," Mr. Sekoff said.

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