Yahoo, AOL debut new series as original content race enters next stage

As March Madness gripped the nation this week, Yahoo Screen debuted Sin City Saints, a half-hour, basketball-themed original comedy series. Likewise, its competitor AOL Originals debuted its first long-form original series, making the first episode of Connected available exclusively to Roku users via the AOL On app.

Sin City Saints
AOL Connected series

At top, Yahoo Screen's Sin City Saints. Bottom: AOL On's Connected, which officially premieres March 31. (Sources: Yahoo / AOL)

Sin City Saints chronicles the "foibles and follies" of a fictional Las Vegas basketball team led by a hapless billionaire playboy. The series' eight-episode season is available to stream at Yahoo's site and via its mobile and streaming apps. It's the second major original content effort by Yahoo Screen, which also revived the cult favorite series Community on March 16.

Connected weaves together the personal stories of six New Yorkers, each using a camera to document their lives over a six-month period. The first episode can be found via AOL On's Roku app, and will be available on all of AOL On's platforms on March 31, according to the release.

The new series signal a committed shift by both companies from short-form video content to more structured online video offerings.

AOL On, for example, has in the past focused on shorter, "docu-style" original content that highlighted unique voices (and was likely less expensive to produce than scripted content). Over the past year, however, the company has invested more into its online video offering, announcing last April it would produce 16 original unscripted short-form series and promising long-form original content.

Connected is developed around online video usage patterns, AOL said in a release. "We are committed to a content delivery strategy that aligns with the way consumers are viewing content, which is, more and more, on connected, over-the-top devices and screens of all sizes," said Robert Delacruz, vice president & general manager of consumer video experiences, at AOL.

Yahoo Screen, meanwhile, has tried to offer a mix of content--from news to live events, as well as partner channels like NFL Now and Comedy Central. It is also refining its user interface to reflect a viewer base that is more mobile-oriented and less likely to access content via desktop computers.

For both Yahoo and AOL, which are in the midst of a years-long shift from their original models as the search and Web access engines of the early Web, the cost of original content remains a concern. But the companies clearly feel they need to keep up with the trend toward original content online.

"We really felt we needed to move to longer-form programming," Dermot McCormack, president of AOL Video and AOL Studios, told Variety. However, he added: "We don't have the budgets to compete against Netflix and TV, so part of our strategy has been innovative formats."

Yahoo, in the meantime, appears to be wading into the waters of the scripted medium with Community and Sin City Saints. It remains to be seen how well both companies' original content strategies play out.

For more:
- see the AOL press release
- Variety has this story
- the New York Times has this article

Related articles:
Netflix, Crackle, AOL On target consumers with original streaming content
AOL spends $50M to buy online video management player Vidible
AOL, Yahoo announce new original series, bank on star power

Updated March 25 to correct AOL episode information.