AOL’s Miller: The Members Shall Lead Us

NEW YORK — Members rule.

Forget for a moment the federal investigations into accounting practices at America Online, the questions about its broadband strategy, slowing subscriber growth and reports of corporate infighting.

Think members. It is the ISP’s members who are leading the company out of its struggles by inspiring a new form of cable-television-style programming and an “AOL Everywhere” strategy, said Jonathan Miller, the new chief executive at AOL.

As long as AOL stays committed to its 34-plus million members as it readies its release of AOL version 8.0, they “will follow us not only from narrowband to broadband, but to other areas of the desktop and mobile devices as well.”

That means an 8.0 built on day-part programming for its 4 million total broadband subscribers, using television-style appointment viewing to assist members as they conduct more of their daily lives online, said Miller.

It also means rolling out new products that both the dial-up users and broadband users want, Miller said, while hinting that loyal AOL members are the key to leveraging new e-commerce and marketing initiatives in the works.

Speaking at a sparsely attended keynote session at the Internet World trade show here, Miller at times struck a note of defiance as he responded to public criticism and ongoing questions about AOL’s sluggish subscriber growth, slowing advertising revenues, and broadband strategy.

“I’m here to tell you our commitment to broadband is clear and unwavering,” he said. “We’ll be in the broadband business. We’ll be in it strongly with terrific products. We’re in it to win it.”

Although he started out sounding somewhat tentative in his first public comments since taking on the role as AOL chief executive, his tone grew more animated as he described a company reinvigorated about its mission.

“We’re taking it back for our members,” he said of the company and its employees.

The former e-commerce chief at USA Interactive called version 8.0, slated for release October 15th, “probably the most important new product release in the history of AOL.”

It will certainly be the first big test of his stewardship since he was named as its new chief to replace Robert Pittman, who was ousted from AOL and parent AOL Time Warner in August.

“One of the hallmarks of my time at AOL will clearly be a tremendous investment in the product. If you take care of the product, you will take care of the members,” said Miller.

Look for an 8.0 version for broadband users that will leverage more community driven content, he said, including building on the popular “Sessions@AOL” music service. AOL music will be offering more special deals for members, he said, such as first-looks at new material from artists.

“Members rule, and if you give them what they want, they will follow you from narrowband to broadband. They will be with you on laptops and on phones,” in a number of creative product segments, Miller continued, whether on a T-1 broadband line or a dial-up connection.

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