America Online’s future unofficially began today, with the beta launch of its new AOL.com portal marking the turning point between its subscription-based business model of the past and its ad-supported future.
The beta site can be accessed via beta.aol.com.
The company’s moves leading up to this launch have been met with cautious optimism by media buyers, who generally are interested in what AOL.com can offer, but want to wait and see how things play out.
The company has a host of interactive ad units up its sleeve, but those are not expected to be launched until the final release of the portal in late July. At that time, the company will also unveil other features of the portal, including three customizable start pages — the default content-packed start page, a sparse, graphics-free page of user-defined RSS feeds, and a video-heavy portal for broadband users.
Broadband content will be key both to bringing and keeping new users, and providing rich media and video ad opportunities. AOL will also use its programming savvy to tailor parts of the site to its core demographic of 25 to 49 year old adults, while catering to a younger audience through AIM, according to David Liu, general manager of AOL.com.
“What we’ll have is like an interactive TV channel with unlimited shelf space,” Liu said.
The page of news feeds is part of what AOL is calling its “LiveWeb” strategy, which is an effort to more tightly integrate AOL.com’s content with the broader Web, and bring outside content into the AOL.com user’s experience. The default home page will include a LiveWeb module that links to search, blogs, and other community areas on the Web.
“We’re trying to give people a view of what’s the best stuff on the Web, and show them some things that were not part of AOL traditionally,” Liu said.
Leading up to the launch, AOL has been revamping its advertising opportunities for months. It has been standardizing all of its sites on a single ad-friendly media player since April. It made some advertiser-focused changes to AOL Search in January.
When the site goes fully live next month, AOL will launch an expansive promotional campaign, taking place mostly online. Elements include rich media and video ads across several online properties, as well as a viral marketing campaign, though Liu would not divulge many details.
“Every ad unit that we’re selling — that’s what we’ll be buying on other sites,” Liu said. “We believe in the medium.”