There were Prosecco bottles popping, waiters gliding around with platters of hors d'oeuvres and Arianna Huffington, in a sleek black dress, looking the part of a Greek movie star.
For all intents and purposes, this was a movie premiere starring, who else, Arianna. But this was inside the Wanamaker Building in Greenwich Village, where AOL announced the summer launch of the Huffington Post Streaming Network, an ambitious online streaming video network to start airing this summer with 12 hours of live-streaming video content a day, five days a week. The plan is to ramp up programming to 16 hours a day next year.
AOL is dedicating at least 100 employees exclusively to the new venture, said Roy Sekoff, who will head up the network as its president. Huffington Post's existing reporters and editors will also be expected to carve out time to appear on the network.
So, no, it's not the $315 million that AOL paid for what CEO Tim Armstrong today referred to as the "the Super Bowl bet we made on Arianna." Nor will it initially match the $150 million that AOL has reportedly dumped into its network of hyper-local news sites, Patch. Instead, investment will likely be more modest, perhaps $10 million or so in the first year. But, in the process, Mr. Armstrong is effectively doubling down on the brand of Ms. Huffington, making his biggest bet yet.
With advertisers clamoring for more high-end video inventory, the demand is there. But whether viewers are going to show up in the same way they do for HuffPo's existing content or whether big advertisers will want to associate themselves with Skype-powered video debates between Huffington Post commenters (one of the networks features) are questions open for discussion.
There were the masses who laughed off the initial idea for the Huffington Post. And there will be those who laugh off this one, too. If it's a success, Mr. Armstrong will be that much closer to what many still believe is impossible: an AOL turnaround driven by content and brand advertising. If it's not, it'll go down as another expensive bet on Ms. Huffington's vision for a world built on community, and around her name.