AOL has begun an 18-month European expansion programme to solidify its transition to advertising-supported content, with the launch today of AOL.it, an Italian portal. The £370 million sale of AOL UK’s broadband business to Carphone Warehouse last year completed a restructure of the European business designed to move it from internet access to monetising content, but, to do that, its portals need to be overhauled accordingly accordingly. Echoing the redesign given in April to the AOL.com portal in the US, the first new site, AOL.it, gets a Yahoo-esque mix of webmail, IM, photo sharing plus news, sport, entertainment and celebrity content.
From the release: “Within 18 months, AOL plans to launch local portals in 14 different international countries, a number of which will be in Europe.” They’re clearly looking to capitalise on the online ads boom, citing a ZenithOptimedia forecasts of a 25 percent growth in western European web ads spending by 2009 and making clear the “huge opportunities for online advertising” on a portal that will “help us compete for both users and advertisers”.
AOL is aiming to cover over 95 percent of the European online market within the 18-month window. Note that the end of this project would dovetail neatly with the 2009 of ZenithOptimedia’s forecast, so the proof of the pudding will be in how how ad revenue the London-based AOL Europe eats up in the next two years.