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AOL UNVEILS DETAILS OF NEW FREE CONTENT STRATEGY

Will Include 1.5 Million Searchable Videos and 27 Content Channels

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NEW YORK (Adage.com) -- Music and video freely accessible to anyone on the Web is the centerpiece of America Online's planned switch to an advertising-supported operation aimed at maximizing daily traffic rather than subscription sales, according to the company.
AOL is planning to make most of its vast content, as well as new kinds of content, accessible for free to everyone on the Web.

Executives from the Time Warner online service unveiled the new content strategy at a press event yesterday. The portal, which has 22.6 million subscribers, will still provide those subscribers with a package of software and support services such as parental controls, special sections for children and antivirus and security programs. But the emphasis beyond that will now be on providing free content for the general Web-surfing and -searching public.

The service has been steadily losing its paying subscribers.

The new version
The new version of AOL, scheduled to go live the end of this month, features 27 channels, a video “hub,” the ability to develop one’s own personalized home page with RSS feeds, free e-mail and a variety of upgraded search tools, including a new video search function.

AOL executives noted that 56% of Internet users in the U.S. use broadband connections to access the Internet from home and that the overall online market is now supporting much higher levels of mainstream advertising. The company believes that online video is now a key draw for the rapidly evolving broadband audience.

The video offerings will be a combination of licensed and original programming, said Kevin Conroy, executive vice president and chief operating officer of AOL Media Networks.

1.5 million videos
The AOL video hub will present clips, replays and other material from Time Warner’s HBO, along with a growing collection of film from movie, TV and other entertainment arenas. Original content includes The Biz reality show; a top 10 video listing of what’s popular each day; a top five of programs on TV the night before; a comedy channel of up-to-the-minute news; and sports updates. This content, which will be introduced over the course of the year, will be added and filed along with the 1.5 million videos housed in AOL’s video search engine, SingingFish, acquired in 2003.

Also searchable is AOL Music. Mr. Conroy points to AOL Sessions and Live performances of musical groups as proof that content will bring visitors. Although it was not promoted, the opening of AOL Music to the general public last October boosted its audience by 37%, he said.

Video advertising units will consist of 15-second "pre-rolls" (ads appearing before video clips) that include an “ad curtain,” which borders the video-play window and continues to show ad messages as the content plays, said Michael Kelly, president of AOL Media Networks. Some advertisers are considering 30-second spots, he said.

AOL has debuted a video player compatible with all video content on the Web. And, in taking down the for-pay wall, all AOL content will be accessible for the first time to search-engine spiders, exposing AOL content to a potentially much broader audience.

Search engine marketing is the core of the marketing tactics rolling out this summer, Mr. Conroy said. By tracking what keywords Web surfers respond to, AOL can determine what areas of AOL.com are performing best and how to target online promotions.

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