Publicity Machine Cranks up for AOL 7.0 Debut

With all the fanfare of the fall television show debuts, America Online, Inc., is rolling out its latest version, AOL 7.0, just one day after rival Microsoft Corp. debuted its new broadband services and one day before AOL’s parent company, New York-based AOL Time Warner , announces its third quarter earnings.

The Dulles, Va.-based AOL’s new software will be backed with an “unprecedented” drive to distribute software disks in more than 30,000 retail outlets in conjunction with Time Inc.’s Time Distribution Services and other AOL partnerships, and a multi-million dollar print and television campaign.

Disks will be available in more than 85 national and retail chains such as supermarkets, department stores, and others, including Barnes & Noble, Blockbuster, CVS, Circuit City, CompUSA, Gateway, Kinko’s, Kroger, Office Depot, Sears, Spencer Gifts, Target, Wal-Mart, and Winn-Dixie.

In addition, the company plans to distribute “millions” of AOL disks through direct marketing efforts including inserts into Time Inc. magazines including People, Sports Illustrated and Entertainment Weekly.

“The ability to draw on the audiences, subscription relationships, and distribution networks provided by the various AOL Time Warner brands gives a whole new dimension to our marketing efforts. Between those efforts and our phenomenal retail partnerships, we’re able to reach consumers through a wider variety of platforms in the most efficient way possible, which should make this our most successful launch ever. Our goal is for consumers to know that they can find us easily wherever they are, whatever they’re doing,” said Joe Redling, president of marketing for AOL.

Much the same as Microsoft’s newest version, AOL 7.0 integrates local programming into every part of the service, providing easy access to high-speed audio and video content, and introduces music and entertainment features.

The AOL service is available as an upgrade for existing members at no additional charge in the United States and Puerto Rico with localized versions for AOL’s international markets in the near future. AOL charges $23.90 a month for unlimited service while Microsoft’s service comes in at $21.95 a month.

Major additions to AOL’s new version include Radio@AOL, a streaming radio service designed to make it easy for mass-market consumers to access their favorite music online, and AOL Box Office, which offers one-stop access to tickets for events. The new services also include one-click access to high-speed audio and video content threaded through AOL’s Entertainment, Music, News, and Sports channels.

An upgraded version of the “You’ve Got Pictures” service allows members to upload pictures directly from any digital camera or scanners for one-stop viewing, sharing, storing and printing, and offers free, unlimited photo storage space and a bundled pricing plan for both prints and online photos.

“AOL 7.0 is at the center of a range of AOL initiatives that will open the next chapter of the Internet. We’re building on our strong, engaged relationships with more than 31 million members worldwide to lead the transformation of new categories like music, entertainment, local, and digital photography — with more on the way as broadband and AOL Anywhere create new opportunities like home networking,” said Barry Schuler, chairman and chief executive officer of AOL. “We’ve designed this upgrade to both reflect the way consumers are using the medium today and give them new ways to get even more value from it.”

The updated AOL Box Office, with operates in conjunction with Ticketmaster, is a service offering consumers online access to Ticketmaster’s inventory of local entertainment events.”

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