Eisner unveils Web studio

Vuguru to produce, distribute content

Michael Eisner is boosting his online profile, announcing the formation of a Web studio called Vuguru.

With the backing of the ex-Disney chief’s investment fund, the Tornante Co., Vuguru will produce and distribute original content for the Internet and emerging digital platforms.

“User-generated content is great, but it’s the tail wagging the dog,” Eisner said in an interview. “The real body of the animal is filmed entertainment.”

Vuguru’s first production, “Prom Queen,” is a scripted, serialized mystery set in high school, with various cloak-and-dagger plot twists leading up to prom night. It will start April 2 and unfold over 80 episodes, each running just 90 seconds, with one new episode posted daily.

Each week’s episodes will be compiled into longer segments on Vuguru.com, with more repackaging likely. The 90-second format will allow episodes to be easily viewed on multiple platforms, hopefully by young, early adopters of new media content and technology.

Eisner said content will be, in movie ratings terms, “PG-13 or less.” That, plus the caliber of the production work and the packaging role of United Talent Agency, will give advertisers a comfort level they may not have on more grass-roots Web sites. Fuji Water, POM Wonderful juices and teas and Teleflora.com are already signed up as sponsors.

A 40-second trailer posted at promqueen.tv features portentous music, high-grade photography and messages such as “This year … on prom night … something terrible will happen.” And the tagline: “Some girls would kill for it.”

Teaming with Tornante on producing “Prom Queen” is Web outfit Big Fantastic, a group of writers, directors and producers. Its flagship series, “Sam Has 7 Friends,” is considered a pioneer in video podcasting. Tornante has acquired the rights to “Sam” as well as any sequels.

After “Prom Queen” launches, other shows could follow. Eisner envisions a development pool comparable to that of a film or TV studio, only at a fraction of the traditional overhead budget.

Vuguru is just the latest young-skewing move by Tornante, which Eisner founded in 2005 upon his rancorous exit from the Mouse House. The firm has led a takeover of sports-card company Topps and invested in Web video company Veoh and sports-themed infant video line Team Baby.

Asked how Vuguru fits into any broader strategy, Eisner said, “I have no idea. I like content.” In running Paramount and then Disney, “I’ve always enjoyed focusing on ‘Indiana Jones’ on the one hand and the growth of TV production on the other, or on ‘Pirates’ and a group of cable networks. It got complicated there at the end at Disney, but I’ve been eclectic all along.”

His management style, too, has evolved. “I’ve been accused of being a micromanager, which I’m proud of,” Eisner said. “I would walk into a room and say, ‘Get this done’ and walk out of the room. Now it’s just me and a few tech guys, so I’ve got to stay in the room.”

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