AUSTIN, Texas -- In a world where Amazon.com and Netflix have Emmys, it’s easy to imagine a not-too-distant future when the lines between tech and media companies are completely meaningless. In the end, it will all come down to who has the best content.
This month, one of the granddaddies of tech companies, AOL Inc., will throw its hat into the premium-content ring with “Connected,” a reality docuseries that features six ordinary New Yorkers and examines how their lives are interconnected, despite their being from different backgrounds. Based on the hit Israeli series of the same name, the show takes the premise of MTV’s “The Real World” and infuses it with a 21st century do-it-yourself ethic -- giving cameras to the characters and letting them tell their own stories.
An effort of the AOL Originals division, “Connected” is the first long-form video project at the 30-year-old tech firm. It’s also the first big test for Dermot McCormack, who left Viacom Inc. in October to become AOL’s president of video and studios. Additionally, the show includes some big-name, Old Guard talent, including Morgan Spurlock, of “Super Size Me” fame, who is an executive producer of the series.
International Business Times sat down with McCormack and Spurlock Saturday to discussed the new series at the South by Southwest Interactive festival.
International Business Times: With AOL, a lot of people still have the “It’s my grandmom’s email” mentality. This is your first long-form series. How important is it as a business model for AOL to come up with its own premium content?
Dermot McCormack: It’s one of our number-one priorities. Television in the U.S. is a $73 billion marketplace, so our business model is just basically to take a share of that. And we’ll need video, and we’ll need longer-form video. There’s lots of views online, but there’s lots of engagement in television. So as [over-the-top] opens up, long-form just makes sense.
IBTimes: Morgan, you sort of pioneered the whole first-person documentary genre. You popularized it with “Super Size Me.” Do you see this show “Connected” as an extension of that genre?
Morgan Spurlock: I think part of what resonated with me about the show is I do feel like there’s a lot of my DNA. I think it’s really smart and simple and beautiful. What I think this does is show that power of first-person storytelling. You get invested in these people. You get invested in their lives, and hopefully this is just the beginning of more smart ways to tell stories.
IBTimes: Is there a reason New York City was chosen for the inaugural season?
Spurlock: That’s where I live, so it makes it a lot easier for us to produce out of there. I think if you’re going to do a show that tells the story of people in the States, launching out of New York makes the most sense. It’s the capital of the world.
IBTimes: What about New York City as a place where people tend to be more connected? I live there, too -- we have this ecosphere where everything sort of melds together.
Spurlock: That’s the kind of beautiful thing, but also the misnomer about New York City. We are all thrust together, but, at the same time, as much as you’re close to someone, you’re also disconnected from their world. There were years I lived in the East Village and never saw my neighbor.
IBTimes: This show, if it’s successful, will it go to other locations -- kind of like a “Real World” scenario?
McCormack: We very much want to be sitting here in the future saying, “Here’s season two of ‘Connected,’” because that means it’s a success. We also feel that there’s a lot more stories to tell. The beauty of this thing is that you can go anywhere with it because the stories in the show are universal stories. Everybody has relationships. You can go to Austin, Texas. You can go to British Columbia, and you’ll find people have those stories.
IBTimes: Are there specific cities you might have your eye on?
McCormack: I would love to do Dublin.
Spurlock: [Laughs.] Wherever the Guinness is, we’ll shoot.
IBTimes: Dermot, you came from Viacom to do this. Is that a signal that the movie business is on a downward trend and Web video is where it’s at?
McCormack: Look, I love television. I love movies. I really respect what goes into making great TV and movies. Just because you have an iPhone -- it’s not easy. People at Viacom or Disney, they make great, great stuff. But for me personally, though, I think because how the business part of television is probably not growing the way it used to be, creatively it’s a tougher medium to work in. And I think online, you can take better risks. I think a lot of the hits over the next 10 years are going to come from the online world. That’s where the new formats will come from. Just how MTV and cable invented a whole new way of looking at the world from the way they shot things, the way they thought about things. I think the next great wave of creators will come from [the online] medium.
IBTimes: There’s a lot more room to experiment, too.
Spurlock: There’s a lot of freedom for creators, and there’s just an outlet for people who normally wouldn’t have a voice to suddenly have a place to put it out there.
IBTimes: Why did you come to South by Southwest to showcase, and how are you liking it?
Spurlock: The timing just worked out. We were really fortunate that when the show was launching and when we were finishing was in line with [South by Southwest]. But any chance I have to come to [South by Southwest], I take. I love it here. I love the whole intersection between technology and entertainment -- that’s where everything is, anyway. And I think the value that South by Southwest has is showcasing that connectivity.
IBTimes: Your old foe McDonald’s got into a controversy a few weeks ago for not paying some of the bands here.
Spurlock: [Laughs.] I’m shocked. McDonald’s and controversy again?
IBTimes: So you didn’t hear about it?
Spurlock: I did not.
The first season of “Connected” premieres on AOL March 31. The 20-episode season will be released in batches of four. This interview was edited for length and clarity. Christopher Zara is a senior writer who covers media and culture. News tips? Email me here. Follow me on Twitter @christopherzara.