Deal structured like TV net/studio model

Yahoo is delving deeper into scripted original programming through a deal with digital-centric independent studio Vuguru.

The companies have committed to co-developing multiple original productions for the portal. In exchange for financing programming for Yahoo to license and distribute, Vuguru retains international rights that allow the company to make its money back reselling the series covered under the deal to buyers in other windows around the world.

“Yahoo is a massive platform with a huge audience,” said Vuguru CEO Larry Tanz. “We both have an interest in creating premium content, so it’s a great match.”

Pact indicates that the momentum Yahoo is putting behind original programming in recent months shows no signs of stopping. Scripted in particular is getting increased emphasis given advertiser interest; Yahoo made a major statement in January when it enlisted Tom Hanks to exec produce and provide the lead voice for an upcoming animated series, “Electric City.”

Yahoo is part of a rising tide of digital players that are either aiming to goose advertising revenues or subscription fees through original programming, including Netflix, Hulu and AOL.

Acceleration of Yahoo’s original programming efforts come as greater uncertainty swirls across the company’s future direction under new management, though what little CEO Scott Thompson has said pointed to a commitment to remaining in the media business.

Vuguru is staking territory in the digital landscape not unlike what Lionsgate Television or Sony Pictures Television is to myriad TV networks in that its absence from the channel business frees it up to serve many different digital outlets who can’t entirely meet their own programming needs internally. In addition to Yahoo, Vuguru has a similar multi-project deal with AOL, as well as other pacts to provide programming from YouTube to Hulu.

Vuguru, a division of Michael Eisner’s Tornante Co., is also no stranger to scripted material, with credits including “The Booth at the End” and “Back on Topps.”

Erin McPherson, VP and head of originals and video programming at Yahoo, wouldn’t tip her hand at as to what kinds of programming to expect from the deal. But she noted that the projects will likely supplement so-called “tentpole” initiatives later in the calendary year where Yahoo expects to concentrate programming efforts. She could greenlight a political thriller, for instance, that could accompany Yahoo coverage of the presidential election.

“We’re going to play to our current strengths in places where we know our audience is already engaged,” she said.

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