AOL recently celebrated its 30th birthday, an eternity in internet time, but the dot-com veteran isn't standing still. Today it's launching a complete redesign of AOL.com to refocus on mobile and video, key themes in the company's recent acquisition by Verizon.
"What people forget about AOL.com is that we still have a lot of scale," said president Maureen Sullivan. "I’ve banned people from using the word portal around here. We don’t call it a welcome screen or homepage because that’s not relevant. But there are millions of people who wake up everyday and come to us wanting to consume content."
Don't call it a portal
Sullivan helped lead a charge to get video attached to every article published on AOL.com, and says 90 percent now include some kind of clip. "Think of us more like a TV network than a website," she told me.
That makes perfect sense, given that Verizon has said it wants to launch a streaming TV service this summer. "We have a huge video library and have stepped up our ability to produce live content." That ranges from an interview with the new CTO of the United States to a raucous chat with the boys from Entourage. The company says unique visitors to AOL.com are up twenty percent over last year, but video views are up a whopping 90 percent.
More like a TV network than a website
My father just turned 65 and still uses his AOL email address, hitting the homepage a few times a day to check his inbox, occasionally reading an article while he's there. But he has an iPhone too, where he checks his mail but never sees AOL.com or its content. Sullivan is hoping to change that. "We've combined mail and content into one app, because for loyal users it’s all one thing."
Sullivan isn't shy about AOL's age, which can mean an audience resistant to change. "We weren’t sure if it was the right move, because our audience tends to like...the same." Now that the company sees the shift to video working, the hope is to go outside AOL.com and attract a new, younger audience.
"There are plenty of people in the world who are not going to wake up in the morning and think 'I will go to AOL.com today.'"
"There are plenty of people in the world who are not going to wake up in the morning and think 'I will go to AOL.com today,'" says Sullivan. The hook has been getting AOL videos shared onto platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, where I might stumble on them, and if I like what I see, stick around for another. "The real key is to get people like you and change their minds about what AOL is today."