AOL's move to sell advertising by matching key programming areas on both its dial-up and high-speed services to specific time periods coincides with a new approach to developing consumer-focused content bundles. AOL has more than 45 new online "shows" in development, all highly targeted to members' interests. AOL 8.0 debuts Oct. 15.
The move to sell by daypart is "a very strong indicator that AOL is realizing that it is no longer picking up the phone and taking orders. It's not just relying on the power of the AOL audience. ... It needs to be creative and reactive to this challenging marketplace," said Scot McLernon, exec VP-sales and marketing, CBSMarketWatch.com.
AOL isn't the first Internet network to sell by daypart. Yahoo! has sold by daypart across the network and on its home page for more than a year, according to a spokeswoman. "The ability to target users during certain periods of their day is one of the many advantages of the Internet as a medium and one that clients have come to expect," she said by e-mail.
Microsoft Corp.'s MSN does not currently sell by daypart, however a spokeswoman said daypart targeting is frequently requested by marketers. MSN has plans to address the issue. Key MSN properties, such as MSNBC.com, Slate, CNBC.com and MSN Money, each have high at-work metrics.
Select members of the Online Publishers Association recently formed the At-Work Brand Network, spearheaded by CBSMarketWatch.com, to lure marketers to make bulk media buys during peak daytime hours.
AOL's dayparts break down to 6 a.m. to noon and noon to 6 p.m. It will also match programming to prime-time hours, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. AOL plans a late-night component with AOL Music programming from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
valuable real estate
"Our overriding goal is to be more relevant to our members and create a sense of consistency in the experience," said David Lebow, exec VP-programming and strategy, AOL.
With 8.0, AOL will flag specific programming targeted to daypart audiences on one of its most valuable pieces of real estate: the welcome screen. AOL 8.0 includes several new personalization features including the ability for subscribers to choose from one of six different welcome screens. A sports enthusiast seeking a wrap-up of "Monday Night Football" action will find headlines flagged on the welcome screen at 6 a.m. on Tuesday. AOL plans to deliver a rundown of financial-market action each Tuesday under a "Morning Money" icon.
America Online CEO Jon Miller is expected to make premium pay services and exclusive content a centerpiece of the company's overhaul as AOL struggles to grow beyond its Internet-access roots. AOL hopes that these offerings, along with retooled programming, will lure advertisers. (See related story, P. 4.)
While discussions continue as to the logistics of selling by daypart, AOL is exploring options that mirror a TV sponsorship model. For example, AOL might have multiple sponsors for a particular program, rotating four advertisers in 15-minute slots throughout the program, according to Michael Barrett, senior VP-national sales, AOL.
"Advertisers would buy specific spots that would air on a program at a specific time," he said, adding that a daypart model allows advertisers to better target. "It's a reach and frequency model vs. the [ad] impression model." Over time, AOL could fetch a premium on daypart advertising.
Mr. Barrett said the AOL sales force hopes to have advertisers lined up by November at the earliest.