AOL Boosts Broadband With TV Reviews

In its continuing effort to offer programming designed mainly for broadband users, America Online has partnered with sibling magazine Entertainment Weekly to launch an online weekly show reviewing television programs.

The show, which debuts today, will be hosted by Entertainment Weekly writers Kristen Baldwin and Dalton Ross. In a streaming video segment approximately four minutes long, they will discuss five upcoming TV shows for the week. Today's show will include footage from the NBC show "The Apprentice," and CBS's "Survivor."

Initially, the segments will be commercial-free, but AOL hopes to sign up advertisers for a 15- to-20-second spot at the end, and a sponsorship mention at the beginning, said Patricia Karpas, vice president and general manager of AOL's TV division. She said that the AOL sales force was pitching the show to a wide variety of marketers, including sellers of consumer packaged goods and consumer electronics, and automotive manufacturers. AOL expects a predominantly female viewership in the 18- to-49-year-old range, according to Karpas.

The EW venture marks another attempt by AOL to promote its broadband service by offering content best viewed via a high-speed connection, although the program will also be available to those with dial-up service, said an AOL spokeswoman. Recently, the Internet service provider allowed members to download the debut episode of the WB's new show "Jack & Bobby" before the air date. Almost 700,000 streams were downloaded, according to an AOL spokeswoman.

The TV-review initiative is the first regular weekly show that AOL has produced in partnership with a Time, Inc. magazine, but not the first time the Internet service provider has teamed up with a sibling title to offer streaming video. In the past, AOL has posted video of the photo shoots in conjunction with People for its annual "50 Most Beautiful People" issue.

In another AOL development, the company as of today allows advertisers to buy into its instant message bot program--through which marketers communicate directly with instant message users via an automated robot--without also purchasing other advertising on AOL, according to Michael Barrett, executive vice president for AOL media networks. Marketers currently participating in the bot program include Nike, Kellogg/Keebler, Nintendo, ACUVUE, and The Wall Street Journal.

Users of AOL's Instant Messenger who opt-in to the program can place the marketer's bot on a buddy list, or simply start messaging it. For example, users who send a message to "recipe buddy" receive an instantaneous answer from Keebler offering links to recipes, including those that use Kellogg's/Keebler products. (Friday afternoon, the bot touted Kellogg's Rice Crispies Treats Original.)

AOL's newest bot, for the TV game show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?," launched last week. Users can assist contestants on the show by messaging the bot with answers to the trivia questions posed. Nearly 100,000 instant message users added that bot to their buddy lists by the end of the week, said an AOL spokeswoman.

Separately, confirming a report in last week's New York Times, AOL said it was today launching a new Web site for shopping, In-Store.com. As of last week, AOL had signed up 39 retail partners, including Nordstrom, Wal-Mart, and L.L. Bean, said Bob Hayes, vice president and general manager for AOL eCommerce. AOL is also offering advertisers prime real estate--its "Welcome" screen, traditionally devoted to news or entertainment. Now, the welcome screen will display ads on 101 days of the year that the company has identified as peak shopping periods, such as the four days following Thanksgiving.

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