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In Talks With Agencies, AOL Plays Up Its Role As Content Producer — While Downplaying The Ad Net

Chances are, most major media buyers are not likely to be impressed by seeing a media company’s TV studio. But when the company showing it off is AOL (NYSE: TWX) TV studio, there’s a chance some might take notice. As the company’s current executive leadership settles into place, content is the chief focus and AOL wants advertisers to recognize that. AdAge has the rundown on a recent three-hour meeting at the company’s Manhattan offices, where AOL promoted music properties like The Boombox and Spinner, along with news blogs Politics Daily, Daily Finance and Engadget. But unlike AOL’s past agency outreach efforts, AOL appears to be shying away from talking up its ad network.

The meeting was led by CEO Tim Armstrong; AOL Advertising and Strategy head Jeff Levick; Agency Relations Chief Erin Clift; Jon Brod, head of AOL ventures and maps; Brad Garlinghouse, head of communications, e-mail, AIM and ICQ, and Bill Wilson, head of content — the only holdover from AOL’s old guard. A year ago, Wilson teamed with then Platform A President Lynda Clarizio for a traveling agency roadshow that served to defend the company’s relevance in the face of display advertising’s downward spiral. Even despite the poor ad market, AOL’s advertising properties were the star of the show.

With a slow recovery expected for online advertising, it makes sense for AOL to lean forward to with its content face. And while AOL’s steady stream of prominent hires and trumpeting of its high traffic numbers — albeit still driven by its dial-up service to a large extent — have helped give the content side more of a glow then its ad business. But AOL, which is currently working on a brand revamp with help from Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett, has a lot of doubt to overcome. David Cohen, EVP-digital at Universal McCann, put the question directly to AOL execs: what makes the company think it can build a content business when there’s “a whole bunch of carcasses by the side of the road of people who have tried and failed?”

Wilson’s response was that while others are creating a few broad destinations, AOL is banking on blanketing the web with hundreds of niche-focused sites. Be that as it may, it will take more than niche sites and a TV studio to convince advertisers that the new AOL really is new.