NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- AOL is planning to hire hundreds of journalists, editors and videographers in the coming year as it builds out its content-first business model.
David Eun, president of AOL's media and studios division, is expected to announce the push in an all-hands meeting of the group in New York today when he lays out his strategy for the unit that will include grouping all the sites into 17 "super-networks."
In an interview, Mr. Eun said he had not only familiarized himself with all of AOL's far-flung content operations in his first 90 days on the job, but also visited many of them personally, studied the economics and data from traffic across AOL's properties and search, and come to one overarching conclusion: produce more content, faster.
"Our mission at this company is to be the world's largest producer of high-quality content, period," he said. "The content driving our traffic is home-grown, and 80% of it is now produced by folks on the AOL payroll."
AOL employs about 500 full-time editorial employees. And while Mr. Eun said the marketplace will determine the pace of new hires, it is conceivable that number could double in the coming year. "We are going to be the largest net hirer of journalists in the world next year," he said.
The content operation, which includes more than 100 brands, including AOL Health and AOL Autos and brands such as Fanhouse and PopEater, will be reorganized into 17 separate "networks" the company will package to advertisers.
The networks themselves represent every significant type of content that the data show AOL users want and advertisers are willing to buy. As an example, the Life network will include sites such as Kitchen Daily and Stylist; Family will include content around parents, kids, tweens, teens and pets. Other "super-networks" will include finance, news, sports, movies, music, local and "communities," which includes AOL Latino and Black Voices.
"We have insights into our audience, and can produce content they want, which leads to engagement, which leads to what advertisers want," said Jeff Levick, president of global advertising at AOL.
Mr. Eun said the bias is toward strengthening the collection of brands AOL already has, but the company will also look to new launches, acquisitions and partnerships. "In this world you have to be doing all three," he said.
In addition to hiring hundreds of full-time employees over the next year, Mr. Eun wants to quickly ramp up the number of freelancers contributing to AOL. Currently there are about 40,000 freelancers contributing to AOL, its SEED content production arm and Studio One. Mr. Eun said the company is still working on a system that measures the value of a piece of content based on the number of people that click, how long they stay, and the amount of ad revenue associated with it.
If AOL is doubling down on their now yearlong effort to transform the company from its dial-up internet access roots to a media company, they're not alone.
After a few years of recovery from the Terry Semel era, the former studio boss who once ran the portal, Yahoo is now calling itself "the world's largest media company" and dropped close to $100 million on Associated Content in May to bolster its offerings.
Like AOL, Yahoo has concluded that its original content performs and monetizes better and it's now in a push to create more of it. In an interview earlier this week, Yahoo Exec VP Hilary Schneider said Yahoo's goal is to boost home-grown content to 20% worldwide.
Indeed, Ms. Schneider said a key rationale for acquiring Associated Content is the sheer number of contributors (340,000) on its freelance rolls. "We know what unmet need we have from of content," Ms. Schneider said. "We can start putting in requests for the content we know our consumers are looking for."
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