AOL logs on small-biz reality skein

Project to include weekly video features, online blogs

America Online is getting into the reality genre, launching online series “The Startup” in a bid to generate buzz from “The Apprentice” and continue its strategy of luring subscribers to its broadband service with exclusive content.

Show will follow four small businesses — a cavern tour park, a spa, a salsa company and a clothing store — as they attempt to survive their first year in business.

Produced by AOL and Entrepreneur Magazine’s Web site, skein will include weekly video features from each company, monthly updates on participants’ progress and online blogs written by the small-business owners.

In its own version of product placement, AOL also plans to extensively promote its online small business tools as part of the show.

“We hope that our new reality series is not just entertaining, but informative to other small businesses in need of real-world examples for coping with these challenges,” said Sarah Bernard, VP of AOL for small business.

Skein debuted last week. No word yet on whether poorly performing small business owners will get fired by a surly real estate mogul.

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