Eisner's Web mystery "Prom Queen" heads overseas

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Web mystery series "Prom Queen," produced by former Walt Disney Co DIS.N Chief Executive Michael Eisner, is heading to France and Japan under deals that will revamp the short Web films into programming for local audiences.

Former Walt Disney Co Chief Executive Michael Eisner in Beverly Hills September 27, 2005. Eisner is heading to France and Japan under deals that will revamp his short Web films into programming for local audiences. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

“Prom Queen” has drawn media industry interest by making a case for how entertainment tailored to the Internet can be extended to cell phones and other media outlets. Now it will take a step further, with overseas deals to develop it into programming for everything from television to DVDs.

Eisner’s new media studio Vuguru will produce and distribute the localized versions with Japan’s Rights Entertainment, including manga and anime formats, and France’s Cyber Groupe in deals built with former Disney executives.

It is one of the first few ventures to take dramatic programming created for the Web and revamp it for television and other audiences, Eisner said.

“If you do something well, there’s appeal for it around the world,” Eisner said in an interview. “All the things that used to go downstream when the Internet was simply an ancillary market, now you’re seeing the Internet becoming the primary market.”

In addition to the technical hurdles of turning video meant for a computer screen into entertainment that will look good on a large, flat-screen television, Vuguru and its partners will also need to translate the idea of an American high-school prom queen to match local teen traditions.

“Each individual country will have their own model,” Eisner said.

The series will be ready for overseas audiences in 2008. The original “Prom Queen” was produced in conjunction with Big Fantastic and viewed by nearly 15 million people since its debut in April.

A smaller spinoff series, “Prom Queen: Summer Heat,” drew more than 2 million views. The spinoff is also part of the overseas extension deals.

Vuguru is part of Eisner’s investment firm, The Tornante Company, which also holds ownership stakes in media start-ups Veoh Networks and Team Baby Entertainment. Cyber Groupe was set up by former Disney executives Pierre Sissmann and Dominique Bourse.

The company is in talks to take “Prom Queen” to additional countries in Europe and Russia. Vuguru will work with its partners in each country to determine how best to reap advertising or other revenue from the shows.

“You need to give your local rights holder the chance to be as flexible as possible to move with the markets and to capitalize on revenue and audience,” Tornante’s Doug Miller said. Miller was a senior executive for Disney in Asia and Europe.

“Clearly they pay a premium for exclusivity, but we all share in some of the risk,” he said.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

Reporting by Michele Gershberg