"To not have AOL as one of our featured partners [was] almost criminal," said Tina Sharkey, group VP-general manager for CTW Online. "They represent a large part of our audience."
As part of a one-year deal, AOL will have a co-branded area leading into the CTW Family Workshop site (www.ctw.org).
It will host Sesame Street Storybook Corner, interactive stories created exclusively for AOL members in which kids and their parents can choose how a story evolves.
CTW this month also launches KidCity, a site aimed at 6-to-12-year-olds. Kids will be able to build their own home pages within Sticker World, a set of virtual stickers that can be used to decorate a site.
GETTING AN EARLY START
Financial terms of the deal with AOL were not disclosed. The AOL deal also includes an undisclosed amount of guaranteed traffic to the CTW site from AOL.
Because AOL already links to the Web site, CTW's advertisers will remain the same. They include Ford Motor Co., Intel Corp. and Kellogg Co.
In addition, AOL will sell advertising on the table of contents and parent pages within the exclusive content, and share that revenue with CTW, which gains additional ad inventory from the deal.
"We've created an experience that parents and kids can use the Internet in a shared way," Ms. Sharkey said.
To date, AOL had little preschool content, added Mark Dewey, group programming director of demographic programming at AOL. "It's our first step in an effort to create engaging content for the under 5 age group," said Mr. Dewey, noting that AOL calls the content "lapware" because it's an activity designed for kids young enough to be sitting on their parents' laps.
This segment is important because AOL parents have said their children show an aptitude for computers as early as 2 years old, Mr. Dewey said.
This is a way to encourage parents to set up "training-wheel e-mail accounts" for their children, Mr. Dewey said.
DIFFICULT TO QUANTIFY
CTW has done other deals with major portals, but not with exclusive content, Ms. Sharkey said.
For instance, it brokered a deal with Excite and its WebCrawler search engine to create a Kids & Family Channel. It also created Family Workshop for Netscape Communications Corp.'s Netcenter.
Whether the AOL Family Workshop deal will pay off is unclear. Content deals on America Online are costly ventures, said Patrick Keane, senior analyst at Jupiter Communications.
"I think it's difficult to quantify the value of an AOL content deal," Mr. Keane said. "Word on the street is a lot of content providers aren't happy with the traffic they're getting" on AOL.
He said some content sites are unsatisfied with the amount of promotion AOL is providing for their brands.
On the other hand, if a site is cautious and gets a guarantee of traffic from the online service, "There's a value to building a brand on AOL," and the