Going For Scale, AOL Says 'Amplify Your Buy,' Unveils Five Original Web Programs

  • by April 18, 2007
Positioning itself as a champion of scale, interactive engagement and high quality content, AOL on Tuesday debuted five original programs for the Web that build on its experience with "Gold Rush," -- the interactive/TV series it partnered on with uber-producer Mark Burnett last year. Media buyers saw promise in some of them.

The online division of Time Warner hopes the five new franchises will lure viewers and advertisers with new participatory and interactive features and plenty of promotion.

The new programming lineup includes partnerships with Burnett, Dreamworks Animation, "Big Brother" producer Endemol, Madison Road Entertainment, Stone & Co. and Telepictures, with which AOL works on gossip site TMZ.com.

The new programming slate includes a games series based on the animated movie "Shrek" called "Ye Olde Shrek the Third Royal Tournament," "Gold Rush," a cross-platform tie-in with "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" that will invite viewers to share their personal stories, "Million Dollar Bill," a series where contestants play daily online games to discover serial numbers of U.S. dollar bills in active circulation, and "iLand," an online competition a la Second Life in which finalists move to a remote island and compete to build a civilization.

AOL unveiled its programming slate at a "First Look" event for advertisers, media buyers and planners and the press on Tuesday as the online industry roils in the wake of Google's $3.1 billion purchase of DoubleClick.

AOL, MSN and Yahoo are mulling strategies on how to compete against the aggressive play by Google, which in snapping up DoubleClick has signaled its intention to go well beyond search advertising to dominate display and brand advertising, traditional strongholds for AOL, MSN and Yahoo.

Google owns nearly 5% of AOL, the result of a partnership formed in 2005, and AOL's search service is supported by Google's technology. It's not yet known how these factors will play out in any potential future partnerships and alliances.

The First Look event also marked a coming-out party of sorts for Randy Falco, AOL Chairman and CEO who said: "This game is all about scale, and AOL is one of only four companies that has it. We want to be a one-stop shop for advertisers in providing all of the tools, services, and creative support they need to reach their consumers online."

Mike Kelly, president, AOL Media Networks, said, "AOL has really been in the vanguard of creating highly interactive, highly engaging programming online. We learned with Gold Rush that the more interactive the programming, the more you involve the consumer, the more successful the whole thing will be."

Kelly said Gold Rush taught AOL how to scale online programming.

"Last year, when the [TV] networks went to market, they brought digital extensions but customers told us that they lacked scale. We want to increase the scalability around the programming."

AOL claims 114 million unique users, while Advertising.com claims 153 million. "What we're doing is saying to customers 'We can give you high engagement and get you enormous reach and scale. It's working,' " Kelly said.

Kelly said AOL will offer video components and video advertising opportunities with all five series: "Not just pre-roll, but integration into the programming."

AOL also is working with Warner Brothers to integrate TMZ.com elements into a newly created TMZ TV show. It recently worked with HBO on the comedy "This Just In."

Kelly declined to comment on the rumor mill surrounding the Google acquisition. Ad sales for AOL in the fourth-quarter increased 49% to nearly $2 billion. Kelly said AOL and its Advertising.com division combined reach 90% of Web users.

Media buyers and planners who attended AOL's First Look appeared impressed, on first glance, at the slate of new programs.

"Gold Rush II and Million Dollar Bill seem really promising," said Rob Salomone, assistant media director, MediaVest, who works on P&G's Gillette brands including Fusion and Venus. His client sat out the first season of Gold Rush.

"I think when you have content geared to continuous usage and access over and over, and it keeps people coming back for more, it's going to be successful," said Lydia Loizides, VP-Paradigm, of the AOL offerings. She said the programming appeals, in particular, to women ages 25 to 54, who enjoy the escape of going online to engage with serialized content.

"These guys have come such a long way in the last three years. It wasn't easy to work with them but it's better now," said Christine Benson, media director, Modem Media, whose clients include HP and Visa. Of the new shows, Benson said, "They have broad-based content that's going to get engagement with the audience."

Gold Rush producer Burnett appeared on stage to preview the second season of the treasure hunt-oriented show, along with several high-gloss women clad in gold. He pumped up the second season letting attendees know that it would take place in Hollywood and would include topical celebrity news and trivia. "Gold Rush is back with a vengeance," he said.

Booted "Dancing with the Stars" contestant Leeza Gibbons appeared onstage to tease "Million Dollar Bill," a Web show debuting in the first quarter of 2008.

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