Eisner Goes to the 'Prom'


Never one to rest on his laurels, Michael Eisner has kept busy since leaving Walt Disney Co., which he transformed into one of the world's premier media companies as CEO from 1984 until 2005.

Eisner, 65, now hosts a show on CNBC, Conversations With Michael Eisner, and has stretched out into new media with his VC company Torante, a major investor in online video site Veoh. On April 2, his new-media company, Vuguru, launches its first project, a high school mystery Web series called Prom Queen, which will be broadcast online daily in 90-second clips.

Eisner took a break to talk to B&C's Garth Johnston about his latest business plans, Internet videos and his own long-ago prom.

What was the impetus behind launching your new production company Vuguru, and why start with Prom Queen?

Because it just seemed like it was the time for professionally generated, emotional story content with a beginning middle and an end to find its way into this broadband world. Once you make that decision, you need to start looking for ideas. The idea for Prom Queen became available, and we just thought, “That'd be a good one.” So I wouldn't say this is a researched decision. It was more of a “Hey, here's a good idea, let's go put on a show.”

How does creating highly serialized shorts like Prom Queen differ from television and film production?

It doesn't. It is still the idea, the script, the rewrites, the cinematographer, the casting and the execution. The same thing that has been around for a thousand years at least, which is: What's the story and how's it being told? So that's the same, the creative part.

Then you have to figure out what's the best way to present it on a distribution platform. We're going to be on mobile, on many different distribution platforms on the Internet. We're going to be 90 seconds for seven days a week, with 10 minutes on the weekend. How do you tell a story in the context of that requirement?

Why are you putting Prom Queen on its own site and on YouTube, Ellegirl.com and Veoh?

Well, the more ubiquitous distribution, the better. We'll learn this way.

We'll learn what distributor is best able to get to the audience with professionally generated, professionally oriented material entertainment. And the next time, we may increase distribution; we may reduce the number of people.

How much consumer testing is Vuguru doing with its programming?

I'm not sure I believe in consumer testing on story-driven entertainment.

What kind of advertising is Prom Queen going to have?

Well, everything we can. We're doing product placement; we're doing it because we don't want to leave the [90-second] format. We'll do a three-second brought to you by, we'll do a post-roll, and in the 10-and-a-half-minute versions, we'll probably do two 15-second insertions or a 30-second. That's it.

When all 80 segments are “aired,” are you going to sell the whole thing?

We haven't made our final decision; we'll probably do every week in the 10-minute versions, and the 90-second versions will also stay online.

And then. in the end, we'll probably do it the way it was written originally, which was a downloadable movie, or maybe even a DVD.

Are you planning any interactive features for Prom Queen?

Yes, but here will be one major site with hundreds of millions of views, and on that site, we'll do a lot of extra features. Characters talking directly to users, consumers. I've got to be a little vague until it is announced. There are two things going on here: the main storyline, which is the most important part, and around that, communities and interaction between the fictional characters.

Do you have any sites bookmarked?

I like what ABC.com is doing. I can't help myself.

Did you got to your prom?

Did I go to my prom? Yeah, I did go to a prom.

I went to an all-boys prep school in New Jersey, so it was a little different then a high school prom.

There was no one murdering a prom queen?

No, we wanted to murder the professors.