Networks Look to AOL's Userplane For Tools
In an effort to foster fan communities, several have enlisted the help of AOL's Userplane subsidiary, which licenses ad-supported chat, instant messaging and video messaging tools. The networks include The CW, Independent Film Channel, Fuel TV and the U.K.'s Channel 4.
"Put simply, our tools increase the time a user will spend interacting with a site or a branded property," says Sam Wick, head of business development at Userplane.
Perhaps the most striking example of this trend is NBC's efforts to promote its popular series "The Office" by actually recruiting viewers to work at Dunder Mifflin--the colorless paper company where the series is set.
In less than two months, the show's site has attracted over 800,000 unique users--100,000 of whom decided to enlist in the company's virtual workforce--along with eight million page views.
"The success of certain show-based initiatives like "The Office" perfectly illustrates how a network can harness a show's fan-base with a well-executed online community," says Gartner Research analyst Andrew Frank.
Seeking additional revenue streams, AOL acquired Userplane in mid-2006 for an undisclosed sum. Because Userplane's chat and video services are ad-supported, AOL was immediately able to sell ads on the more than 180,000 Web sites that license Userplane's hosted chat application, including MySpace.
"Social networking features with media sites drive page views--which, in turn, drive advertising," Wick says.
Userplane offers partner sites three options for using its technology: Paying a monthly license fee based on usage, accepting third-party advertising in lieu of fees, or a hybrid model in which licensed clients can also split ad revenues with Userplane.
Userplane sells standard banner and text ads, as well as video ads that run in a panel within its Web platform normally used to show a user profile or a photo.
Userplane's software also lets advertisers target audiences based on user profiles and demographics. And beyond keyword-targeted site advertising, Userplane's ad network is able to organize Free Webchat orders into a series of more than two dozen categories, from automotive and careers to health, news, shopping, and sports, Jones says.