Just An Online Minute... Free Video Service at AOL?

Taking a page from Microsoft Corp.'s MSN and providers, America Online is poised to launch its own free, ad-supported video service, according to a report on CNET's News.com that surfaced last week.

The plan for the service is just the latest in a series of moves by AOL designed to open its kimono to millions of Web surfers who aren't subscribers. The move builds on a strategy designed to lure millions to AOL properties by offering free content. The only catch? AOL must support the strategy with ferocious ad sales.

But whether it can actually do so, remains to be seen. If AOL can undercut MSN and Yahoo! on price and have exclusive content, it's got a chance.

AOL has jacked up the volume on the "free" strategy in recent months as subscriber declines have escalated. I bet all that free content rankles those paying $23.90 per month to AOL for its content and services. How is AOL dealing with that problem?

AOL will launch the free video service in a few weeks, Tom Bosco, director of broadband sales development for AOL told CNET. Bosco says Netscape Video, an on-demand video service is also in the works; the video service will offer a mix of free video clips and some just for AOL subscribers. And get this: AOL projects it will have a total audience of 100 million or more people per month for the three video services it's creating.

One hundred million... that sounds a little steep.

During the presidential election, upon John Kerry's defeat, MSNBC.com reported 80,000-some simultaneous streams accessed by individuals watching the concession speech on Nov. 3. (That doesn't include the number of people who clicked on the video clip later).

Still, I find it hard to believe that AOL is projecting that large of an audience for its video content. Between AOL.com, Netscape, and other properties, it's got some eyeballs, but the consumer mindset for that much video may not be there yet - free or not. It's going to take some time to create that habit. Can demand be created on a selected basis around special events, concerts, and so forth? Absolutely.

In the meantime, AOL better start selling some pre-roll. I'll believe it when I see it. We've waited months for this moment.

Show me.