*Google* vet David Eun has kept a low profile since he joined AOL (NYSE: AOL) in March as president of AOL Media and Studios. But this week he’s breaking out of the self-imposed shell, first to accept a digital power award from The Hollywood Reporter and now to explain just what he’s been doing during the last 90 days: reorganizing the way AOL approaches content. Eun will present the new AOL content structure — a slimmed-down 30-plus sites channeled into 17 “super” networks — at an all-hands meeting today. That’s a major change from the previous URL-based approach with more than 80 distinct sites. Eun explained the strategy and the thinking behind it to paidContent in one of his first interviews.
The new structure is like a newspaper in some respects with the super nets divvied up into our groups — AOL News & Info, AOL Entertainment, AOL Life, and AOL Commerce (plus the AOL.com front page as its own) — but with a TV-like emphasis on programming and production. Nearly all of the content remains but the branding is changing. Most of the standalone brands will continue — for example, country music’s The Boot stays as a brand but within AOL Music, part of the entertainment super net: some, like diet & fitness site thatsfit.com will disappear but the content goes into the AOL Health section. Most of the super nets probably will wind up branded as AOL; that’s still in play.
Eun is careful to call what he’s doing more about refining the content strategy, which already had undergone major shifts with Tim Armstrong as chairman and CEO, than creating a new one. “What we’re trying to do is be the largest producer of high quality digital content on the web. Period.” AOL, he says, is “uniquely positioned” to do that by bringing together the best of media and technology. “You start with really high-quality accomplished journalists and editors and you provide them with the tools and the intelligence and a network of affiliated content contributors who can provide a lot of the pieces of content that you pull together to program great experiences online.” AOL has already said it plans to hire “hundreds” of journalists and other staff to support the increased content push; the company has shifted the ratio from 20 produced internally to 80 percent produced in house.
In this version of AOL, internal mass content production start-up Seed and acquisition Studio Now create atoms — pieces of content that can be used on their own and also programmed by in-house experts for various uses. “You iterate, gather intelligence. Iterate, gather intelligence. Rinse. Repeat.”
SXSW: One example Eun offers is AOL’s SXSW coverage. The ambitious Seed project to profile every band (didn’t quite make it) was already in the works when he got there. Last year, AOL’s posted 40 articles; this year, more than 2,200 from reporters, editors, production staff and more than 350 content contributors. Traffic more than tripled but more important to Eun for now, they were able to track and change programming in real time, add more from the ground and will be able to use most of it in other ways going forward. “You’re extending the shelf life of pieces that you do. In the traditional media world, you have one piece of content you produce and it typically has a finite shelf life. … You need to get into each piece of content and see what’s the life of that that content and what’s the return on that content.”
Sales clarity: Sales chief Jeff Levick says the new structure finally gives him the ability to go to advertisers with a clear content story about why AOL is the digital media company of the 21st century. He compares it to moving from constellations of stars to planets. Yes, Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) and others are pitching themselves as content companies but “we will end up having the most amount of content at the deepest level to drive the most engaged audiences on the web.”
Levick appreciates the way Eun took a very deep dive into the data behind AOL, looking at the way sers engage, the interests, the patterns to find what was most important. “We have so many different properties. This is a data driven way to organize around the most important networks of information.”
Super networks: Eun, who is responsible for serving a user base that still reaches more than 100 million uniques in the U.S. and some 250 million globally, has divided the AOL content structure into 17 super net. Each can include multiple offerings and are designed for “deep” experience across the breadth of the networks.