The evolution of AOL has been interesting, and its latest redesign is the clearest signal yet of where the US internet giant sees the future of online revenue.
The redesign refocuses the site on video content, maximising the output of recent purchases 5min and Adap.tv, while encouraging user consumption and engagement with more visible play buttons, helpful time stamps and prominent social sharing buttons. AOL says it’s putting more thought into where videos sit within articles too, in a bid to boost effectiveness.
This shift towards video highlights AOL's commitment to keeping its finger on the pulse of consumer trends. An early driver of internet usage at home, AOL was once a dial-up service sold by posting out CDs.
CDs which, according to AOL’s former Chief Marketing Officer Jan Brandt, were once so ubiquitous that they accounted for 50% of discs produced worldwide – and helped to drive subscriber growth, inflating AOL from a $70m market cap at IPO to $150bn before the Time Warner merger. AOL's website stats have remained solid even as the subscriber model died: comScore figures show over 31.1 million unique views in April 2015.
AOL remains popular with legacy users, (it is the most popular site among over-55s in the UK), but the firm is still keen to build relationships with younger users. President of AOL.com and Lifestyle Brands Maureen Sullivan told TNW that 14% of users are under 25, but considering that 37.7% of AOL’s views come from mobile devices, that figure looks conservative.
When Verizon acquired AOL last month, the New York Times instantly suggested, it was all about AOL’s mobile video and advertising tech, which, Kathryn Winsted of Pace University told the paper, "is where it’s at if you want to get millennials".
What’s more, a survey of mobile video viewers in 24 countries conducted by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) found that mobile video consumption is broadening. 20% of people regularly stream video on a smartphone while watching TV, and 36% watch media of 5 minutes or more on their phone every day.
The most interesting finding for AOL, however, is that over 80% of respondents in most markets preferred advertising to be tailored to mobile. That’s a great omen for AOL’s mobile video advertising tech, and food for thought for other mobile content producers.