Eisner launches Internet video studio Vuguru

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An investment firm run by former Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Michael Eisner has launched a studio that will produce and distribute videos for the Internet, portable media devices and cellphones, as Hollywood strives to reach tech-savvy viewers online.

The studio, Vuguru, has signed for its first project, “Prom Queen,” a scripted 80-episode mystery consisting of 90-second installments described as “a blend of love, gossip, and betrayal” during the final two weeks of high school.

“Prom Queen” debuts on April 2 and will be available at Vuguru’s site, online magazine and YouTube.

It will also be available on Veoh Networks, co-financed by Eisner’s investment company Tornante Co.

“The entire concept here is content is king,” Eisner said in a phone interview. “What will drive traffic is interest in the subject matter.”

Eisner’s new studio is part of Hollywood’s courting of Internet businesses, which they see as fertile ground for new viewers unreachable by traditional outlets like television.

Since leaving Disney in 2005, Eisner has carved out a new career as an investor in Internet and media businesses, including the purchase of start-up media business Team Baby Entertainment, which produces sports-themed DVDs for kids.

Eisner’s firm also announced in March it would buy Topps Co., maker of baseball trading cards and Bazooka gum, in an estimated $385 million deal.

He did not disclose the firm’s financial commitment to Vuguru but said it would be 100 percent backed by Tornante.

“This is not making ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,”’ Eisner quipped, referring to Disney’s estimated $140 million feature film budget for the box office blockbuster movie.

Eisner, who helped define modern filmmaking and merchandising during a 21-year reign at Disney, now aims to do the same online.

Vuguru, which will focus primarily on producing original programing online, plans to play with the format, which he believes is still at an early stage.

The studio’s next project will feature videos that are five minutes in length and it is working on another project with seven-minute videos.

“There will be experimentation,” he said. “Unlike traditional media outlets, this is pretty open.”

Eisner did not rule out one day offering full-length feature films through Vuguru.

What’s missing? Viewers will not be able to upload their own videos to Vuguru, a feature which made Google Inc.’s YouTube the Internet’s top online video site.

Tornante will be producing “Prom Queen” with independent production team Big Fantastic. The deal was brokered by United Talent Agency’s online division.