AOL is now playing in the movie biz.
The Internet media company inked a deal with Miramax to deliver a selection of its full-length films to U.S. users, available to watch for free (with ads) across a range of devices. The pact will lead up to the launch of a new "Movies" section that will be featured across the AOL On Network for video, which until now has comprised only shortform series and clips.
The Miramax channel on AOL is scheduled to launch April 30. AOL will make available "tens of films" from the Miramax library, rotating on a monthly basis, said Ran Harnevo, president of AOL Video. The initial lineup of pics hasn't been disclosed yet.
"There's a tendency to look at digital companies as doing only shortform video," Harnevo said. "Our viewers are getting more open to us offering longer-form content, and we want to offer a full breadth of content. Curating good film experiences looks like a natural path."
The Miramax deal is not exclusive to AOL, and the studio has cut licensing deals with Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, among others. But Harnevo said AOL sees an untapped opportunity to sell advertising for premium movies online, noting that most films are available digitally via subscription or electronic sell-through services.
The rise of connected-TV viewing also pushed AOL to jump into movies. AOL On is now available on 14 connected-TV devices, including Microsoft Xbox 360, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, TiVo and TVs from Sony, Samsung, LG, Panasonic and Sharp. Viewing on those platforms tends to be longer than on PCs.
Ultimately, AOL's objective is to be a comprehensive purveyor of video across the spectrum, Harnevo said -- with a lineup of snackable clips, short-form series, 30- and 60-minute episodic shows, and movies. AOL has greenlit its first TV-length original series, "Connected," an adaptation of an Israeli reality show to be set in New York City in which five cast members record their lives using personal handheld cameras.
AOL is in talks with other studios to bring more films into the soon-to-launch Movies section of its website. That will have a unique user interface designed for discovering and watching movies, according to Harnevo, distinct from how AOL's other video content is presented. AOL will deliver ads in the free streaming movies, but "we are going respect consumption behaviors and we won't get too aggressive on monetization," he said.
For Miramax, the AOL deal marks yet another way to squeeze digital dollars from its intellectual property. "Creating an ad-supported Miramax-branded channel on the popular AOL On Network is an exciting step as we remain committed to reaching Miramax fans through new and innovative platforms," said Beth Minehart, Miramax exec VP of global digital.
Disney sold Miramax in 2010 to Qatar Holding along with an investor group led by Colony Capital. Miramax recently announced a 20-year deal with The Weinstein Co. to co-produce and co-distribute derivative works based on titles in the Miramax library.
AOL is the third-biggest U.S. Internet video operator, behind YouTube and Facebook. In March, AOL had 69.4 million U.S. unique video viewers who watched 1.3 billion videos, according to comScore. In a separate initiative to drive up viewing, AOL.com last week added a prominent new video module on the home page, with content partners including HSN and WWE.