AOL beta-launched its new portal, with certain pieces to follow later (e.g., video, personalization). Internal and external expectations are high for the new site and strategy, which seeks to leverage the AOL user-base and network to drive more advertising revenue.
We were briefed by AOL last week and spent two hours talking about all the new initiatives. By the end of the meeting, my brain was about to break. But there's a great deal to discuss and a tremendous amount that they're doing.
The two themes that I took away from the meeting were content and integration. AOL has a powerful collection of brands (e.g., AIM, Moviefone, MapQuest) and a huge user base (second only to Yahoo! and with longer sessions). The new portal will better integrate and cross-pollinate those features and services where appropriate. Local is also a big piece of the picture, with the "Around Your Town" and "Find It Center" modules/boxes containing local and directional information.
Even as AOL is "managing subscriber churn" according to Jim Riesenbach, AOL's SVP of Search & Directional Media, its new portal seeks to leverage broadband adoption with wide-ranging video and audio content (some of it produced exclusively for the portal) that would otherwise be frustratingly inaccessible to dial-up users.
Early reaction among marketers to the new strategy appears to be positive. Indeed, AOL has content assets that are hard to match. The new site should create a great deal of high-value ad inventory (esp. rich media) for brand marketers who don't have lots of good options today. There aren't many sites out there that have the reach of AOL.
There's a perception that AOL has faltered over the past couple years and is not as "hip" as Google or Yahoo! Some accordingly wonder whether the AOL brand can thus regain lost luster (especially among the "MySpace Generation").
Yet I believe that if the company can deliver something in practice that is as compelling as it looked in PowerPoint, AOL will succeed.