Blog Post

Yahoo's Latest Brush With Big-Name Producer Talent: Ben Stiller

Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) continues on its push for original video content and A-list talent, with a deal for a new comedy series with Ben Stiller’s Red Hour production shingle.

Burning Love, which will be co-produced by a division at Paramount (NYSE: VIA) Pictures specializing in small-budget projects, Insurge Pictures, will be a spoof on syndicated reality dating shows like Blind Date. Launching in the spring on Yahoo Screen’s Comedy Channel, the scripted show will feature such onscreen talent as Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Ken Jeong and Abigail Spencer.

“We feel Burning Love is going to burn a hole through the internet and create a worldwide comedy meltdown. Think WikiLeaks, only sexier and funnier,” Stiller said in a press release.

As a number of big technology companies invest in premium original video content in an effort to pry ad dollars away from traditional television, it’s Yahoo that so far seems to be enlisting the biggest guns. For example, Google’s YouTube (NSDQ: GOOG) is spending $100 million to create nearly 100 dedicated channels of professionally produced content. To that end, it has enlisted a range of publishing brands like the Wall Street Journal, Reuters (NYSE: TRI) and Motor Trend, and small production companies servicing basic cable, like the celebrity-focused Young Hollywood Network.

Rather than throw 100 concepts off the wall and hope for an original-series hit, Yahoo seems to be investing in a finite number of tentpole projects. Last month, for instance, it announced a deal with Tom Hanks and deep-pocketed Indian entertainment conglomerate Reliance to produce an animated fantasy series, Electric City. The technology company also has comedy development deals in place with well-known stand-ups including Bill Maher and Anthony Jeselnik.

We were a little surprised in January to see Hanks’ PlayTone — a company producing movies and TV shows largely aimed at older audience demographics — get involved with a relatively small-budget internet initiative aimed at a younger male audience, and suggested that Stiller’s Red Hour might be a better fit.

At a time when the young-male movie watcher has been hard to reach, Red Hour-produced comedies like 30 Minutes Or Less have hit their marks across theatrical, DVD and VOD platforms. And the company is aggressively branching out to other platforms — it just signed a development deal with ABC (NYSE: DIS) Studios in November, for example.

As for Paramount’s Insurge label, the division achieved acclaim last year for producing one of the biggest theatrical success stories in an otherwise downer year at the box office. Not only did the unit produce the hit concert film Justin Bieber: Never Say Never on a modest budget of only $13 million — the film grossed nearly $100 million in worldwide theatrical revenue alone — it managed to launch the project with only a fraction of the usual promotional spend. Instead of relying on the typical TV ad campaign, Insurge ran a finite number of television spots for the film and instead leveraged the power of Bieber’s vast social network following.