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Eisner Launches Digital Studio

12 Mar, 2007 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Michael Eisner has moved his act from the big screen to the Internet.

The former Disney CEO's private investment company, The Tornante Co., March 12 announced the launch of a Web-based studio that will develop short-form content for online distribution.

The studio, Vuguru (www.vuguru.com), is releasing an original scripted mystery series, “Prom Queen,” which features 80 episodes — each running about 90 seconds — showcasing the emotional trials and tribulations in the final weeks of the high school year.

To attract the desired female teen demo, the ad-supported serial (www.promqueentv.com) includes electronic commerce links with ELLEgirl.com and StarStyle.com — the latter offering apparel from Victoria's Secret, Jessica McClintock, People Liberation and HotKiss.

Additional video distribution of Prom Queen is available at YouTube and Veoh — the latter a video networking site backed by Eisner.

“In the past few years, the development of exciting and innovative digital media platforms and technologies has outpaced the creation of truly great content,” said Eisner. “Vuguru will produce and showcase original and third-party content in all genres and formats to meet the new demands of the evolving media landscape.”

Prom Queen was created by Big Fantastic LLC, a consortium of writers and directors, whose first pod cast series, Sam Has 7 Friends, also was acquired by Tornante.

“From the first frame of Sam, it was clear that these talented individuals were operating on a different level,” said Eisner. “They have an ability to create a hands-on style of filmmaking that generates network-caliber content, but with the kind of intimacy and interactivity Web audiences crave.”

Eisner's embrace of digital media would appear in contrast from the latter stages of his 21-year reign at Disney, when he clashed famously with tech-savvy Steve Jobs at Pixar Animation and dismissed as irrelevant his own studio's attempt at a movie-download service.

After Disney sold its stake in MovieBeam to a private equity firm, No. 2 movie rental chain Movie Gallery last week bought the set-top box service for less than $10 million.

Media analyst Dennis McAlpine isn't so sure Eisner's online investment isn't as much about diversifying his portfolio as underscored earlier this month by the $384 million acquisition The Topps Co. sports card manufacturer.

“Eisner buying Topps does not mean it is entering the Internet,” said McAlpine.

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