NEW YORK, N.Y. - With TV network style, Yahoo is launching a fall slate of shows in a bid to strengthen its original programming.
On Tuesday, Yahoo Inc. announced that it will begin premiering seven new Web series this week, all targeting female audiences. That adds to the approximately two dozen original series on Yahoo, which often pull in much higher viewership than other, higher profile video hubs.
Yahoo sites generated 45.5 million unique viewers in August, according to comScore Inc., which was sixth best and above both Hulu and AOL. In the same month, Yahoo Studios had all 10 of the top 10 most-watched online video series, according to comScore.
"I absolutely liken us to the fifth network or really the first digital network," says Erin McPherson, vice-president and head of original programming at Yahoo.
The new shows generally take an unscripted, lifestyle programming strategy. Judy Greer ("Arrested Development") hosts "Reluctantly Healthy," a series about cooking and exercising for those with little time. Niecy Nash ("Reno 911") hosts a relationship show, "Let's Talk About Love." ''Ultimate Proposal," with Cameron Mathison ("All My Children"), will use a team of experts to help men deliver a memorable marriage proposal.
An eighth show, not specifically targeting women, is also set to launch in November: "The Failure Club," a show about people trying to overcome a fear, produced and hosted by documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock.
Yahoo is also planning further additions, with series focusing on other demographics and genres. With its own Los Angeles production house, it's easy to see Yahoo as a budding video factory — only making 3-minute to 5-minute videos instead of 30- or 60-minute programs.
On Monday, Yahoo announced a partnership with ABC News, which will further Yahoo's video news coverage. Yahoo is also considered a possible suitor for Hulu, the online video service that Yahoo syndicates.
Original and syndicated programming will be gathered in a new video site, Yahoo! Screen.
Yahoo's push into original programming is taking several pages from the broadcast book, like marketing shows' start times, a Web rarity, and offering up finished programs to advertisers rather than have a series sponsored by one brand.
"We're both a TV network and a studio," says McPherson. "We're creating our own original content — we do have an in-house Yahoo Studios team — and then we partner with folks like Ben Silverman's Electus and Morgan Spurlock's company and others."
Yahoo's success in original programming is partly due to the traffic it can generate from its homepage. For all its problems, Yahoo still drew 177.5 million unique visitors in August, according to comScore, second only to Google.
That Yahoo is finding large audiences for digital video typically has been overshadowed by the company's larger difficulties. It has struggled to grow advertising dollars and last month fired CEO Carol Bartz. (Financial officer Tim Morse was named interim CEO.) Year-to-date, its shares are down about 16 per cent.
McPherson acknowledges that ad dollars "have not fully caught up" to digital video, but she believes online video is finally at "an inflection point" where technology and demand are peaking. Yahoo's premiere series, the entertainment wrap-up show, "Omg! Now," drew 8.3 million unique visitors last month.
"We're not just video, we're video plus," says McPherson. "We're video plus text and photos and communications products and mail and messenger. That contextualized experience is something we can own."
For Greer, the process has been educational.
"Would I have tried to pitch a Food Network show for myself? No, but this is sort of like a toe-dipping," says Greer. "The Internet is fun and weird and uncharted."
Just as Yahoo is learning the business of a smaller-scale TV studio, Greer is getting accustomed to hosting a Web series.
"It's nothing I ever thought that I would do, but everything right now is so weird," Greer says. "Are we even going to have television or are we just going to have computers that we take everywhere? I don't understand technology totally, but I also don't want to be left in the dust."___