Kara Swisher

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MediaGlow, AOL, Glow? (Here's the Entire Press Release Too)

Although its advertising business is tanking this quarter and its merger deal with Yahoo remains dormant, AOL is focusing on one of the brighter spots in its business: the popularity of its content sites.

Today, the Time Warner (TWX) unit will announce the expansion of its publishing unit, which it is curiously called MediaGlow.

A deep dive into content, especially when the advertising market is also in a sharp downtown, is an interesting move, to be sure, although it makes sense for AOL to double down in the areas it excels in.

In a press release obtained by Boomtown, which will be released later today (but you can see below), AOL said it would develop over 30 new sites in 2009, employing the low cost, niche-focused model that has worked well at many of its 75 existing sites.

AOL’s content sites, which are typically the No. 2-ranked in a variety of categories to those at Yahoo (YHOO), have grown significantly in recent years, as the company has become more Web-focused.

AOL claims it has 70 million unique monthly visitors for its content sites, with page views up 40 percent year-over-year.

AOL content czar Bill Wilson–with a spanking new title of President of MediaGlow–will lead the publishing effort, which will include new “state-of-the-art” studios in New York and Los Angeles.

That essentially means several hundred content-focused employees with a whole army of free-lancers, to create both original and aggregated content.

AOL is calling MediaGlow the third leg of its business model, with its People Networks (communications and social assets) and Platform-A (advertising) as its other two.

Here’s the full press release on the move:


Plans Include the Development of Over 30 New Sites in 2009

State-of-the-Art MediaGlow Studios Launches in NYC and LA

Bill Wilson to Lead New Global Publishing Push

NEW YORK, NY, January 12, 2009–After a year of strong growth for its programming efforts, AOL announced today a series of significant developments that will dramatically expand, reposition and monetize its digital publishing business in 2009. Over the past year, AOL’s programming unit has seen page views climb 40% year-over-year, engagement increase 20% year-over-year and its audience grow to 70 million unduplicated users.* Anchoring today’s announcement is the creation of a new AOL business unit, MediaGlow, which will centralize AOL’s entire publishing efforts, with the goal of greatly expanding the unit’s global reach in the coming year.

Today’s announcement also completes AOL’s transformation to an advertising supported business. Over the past 18 months AOL has announced the formation of Platform-A, the largest domestic digital advertising platform, which uniquely maximizes online outreach for advertisers, as well as the creation of People Networks, the company’s social media unit, which leverages the power of community properties such as Bebo, AIM and ICQ to reach an audience of more than 92 million unduplicated users worldwide.* MediaGlow and its publishing assets will now join Platform-A and People Networks as the third core business for AOL.
“Our vision was to rebuild AOL into three core businesses–publishing, advertising and social media. With the launch of MediaGlow, we have completed our goal in less than 18 months,” said Randy Falco, Chairman and CEO of AOL. “AOL now efficiently delivers the most relevant and engaging content and is able to uniquely maximize display advertising opportunities for advertisers and publishers across the Web. MediaGlow provides us with the ability to extend our publishing success and puts AOL in a very strong position for the future.”

“Gone are the days when one general portal or social networking site addressed the needs of all consumers. Today’s fragmented online environment requires programming that targets people’s passion points at scale across a range of unique sites,” said Ron Grant, AOL’s President and COO. “Make no mistake, AOL has become a true digital content company. Over the past year, we have mastered the art of producing high-quality vertical and niche programming at scale. Now by centralizing and investing in this infrastructure, we will ensure that we are maximizing our potential for monetization.”

The creation of MediaGlow comes on the heels of a highly successful 2008 for AOL’s publishing unit, which has been led by Bill Wilson, Executive Vice President of Programming for AOL. Wilson will now lead MediaGlow as President of the new business unit, directing not only the publishing unit, but a new infrastructure that will include global outreach and AOL’s vast array of commerce-related sites.

Under Wilson’s leadership, AOL rebuilt its flagship portal, AOL.com, and its entire network of vertical sites, while at the same time rapidly developing and launching more than a dozen new targeted content sites in the past year. In addition, during this short time period, the Programming team has built a vast infrastructure of world class talent, including editors, content creators and industry experts.

This effort has brought a significant new audience to AOL’s slate of Web brands and has driven record-setting engagement metrics. In 2008, unique visitors to AOL’s programming content sites grew to 70 million unduplicated users, with page views climbing 40% year-over-year and engagement growing 20% year-over-year. In addition, the influx of new consumers and deeper audience engagement levels provided AOL with double-digit increases in vertical content advertising revenue year-over-year in Q3 2008, and has brought in new advertisers such as Chili’s, Wal-Mart, Schick, Old Spice and Motorola.

“2008 has been a truly historic year for AOL Programming because we became brand builders,” said Bill Wilson, President of MediaGlow. “Few people outside of AOL would have believed a year ago that our sites would now be in the top positions in nearly every important programming category, but in a very short time we have created a successful, nimble and valuable business property for AOL. From our reinvented AOL.com to our vertical content sites, we are creating experiences that successfully reach key demographics and provide unique, relevant and valuable content to consumers and solutions for advertisers. As an ad-supported company, this is a huge asset. We are very excited to push our efforts to a whole new level with the establishment of MediaGlow and are now in a position to take our successful formula global.”

In conjunction with today’s announcement, AOL announced two important publishing developments:

MediaGlow will continue its aggressive momentum in the development of the new AOL.com, and its vertical Web sites focused on passion points, with the goal of creating over 30 editorially curated sites in 2009. A sample of specific categories includes: expanding AOL News and AOL Sports into a variety of newly created niche-oriented news and sports sites; building on the success of its highly successful Asylum site with new, male–oriented, 18-34 year old targeted brands; creating new sites focused on areas such as Reality Television, Soap Operas, Horror Films, Jazz and Heavy Metal; and launching a new pop culture site aimed at kids.

In addition to these newly curated sites, MediaGlow will also maximize the technology of acquired companies Relegence and Sphere and begin an unprecedented effort to build thousands of medium and long-tail focused automated sites in 2009 and 2010, which will efficiently continue AOL’s growth position in publishing.

MediaGlow will add to its infrastructure two state-of-the-art studios, located in AOL Headquarters in New York City and its offices in Los Angeles. MediaGlow Studios will provide new video production capabilities from hi-def video to complete editing and encoding. The studios will also be used to shoot original video productions that will now be distributed globally. Productions to be developed and produced through the MediaGlow Studios include original programming developed by AOL–Moviefone’s Unscripted, AOL Music’s Sessions, AOL Living’s Trade Secrets branded entertainment shows, Spinner’s The Interface and AOL Television’s Outside the Box.

The following lists AOL’s publishing success, based on the November comScore Media Metrix data:**

#1 Country Music Site: TheBoot
#1 Hip-Hop Music: The BoomBox
#1 Men: Asylum
#1 Style: StyleList
#1 Women’s Blogs: Lemondrop
#1 African American: BlackVoices
#1 Music: AOL Music
#1 Retail Tickets: Moviefone.com
#1 Television: AOL Television
#2 Horoscopes: AOL Horoscopes
#2 Latino: AOL Latino
#2 Business- News/Research: AOL Money & Finance
#2 Entertainment-News: TMZ
#2 E-mail: AOL E-mail
#3: Movies: Moviefone.com
#3 Real Estate: AOL Real Estate
#3 Health: AOL Health
#4 News: AOL News
#4 Technology: AOL Tech
#4 Women’s: AOL Living
#5 Search: AOL Search Network
#5 Weather: AOL Weather
#5 Home: AOL Home
* Based on a custom pull of November 2008 comScore Media Metrix data. (Note: the People Networks unduplicated reach figure excludes AIM Mail.)
** Categories for Asylum, BlackVoices, Horoscopes, Latino, Lemondrop, TheBoomBox, TheBoot and StyleList have been custom built by AOL.

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— Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, in their farewell D post