AOL centralizes ad strategy

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AOL LLC, a majority-owned subsidiary of Time Warner Inc., is making some major changes in an aggressive bid to position itself as the world's largest and most effective advertising network, building on its Advertising.com network and the recent acquisitions of Tacoda, Third Screen Media, Lightningcast and ADTECH.

The company has launched Platform A, an offering that gives advertisers reach across all of AOL's ad braands and services. It is also moving its global headquarters to New York as part of the final stage in the company's transition from an subscription-based access business to a global, ad-supported Web company.

"With the increasing fragmentation of online audiences, the best way to serve advertisers is to enable them to harness massive advertising networks that reach across the Internet," said Anne Bentley, senior vice president of corporate communications at AOL. "And over the past eight months, AOL has put together a display network with unprecedented reach, combined with state-of-the-art solutions, to take full advantage of these trends."

Platform A will offer advertisers access to sophisticated targeting and measurement tools across a network of third-party sites, as well as AOL's owned and operated sites.

"With the launch of Platform A, we are unleashing this powerful network to deliver unrivaled transparency and return on investment for our marketing partners," Bentley said.

Platform A already reaches more than 90 percent of the domestic online audience, according to comScore Media Metrix.

"AOL's integration of Advertising.com, Tacoda and the video and mobile ad networks into one group makes a lot of sense," said Roy Shkedi, CEO of Almond Net.

"Behavioral targeting is becoming the No. 1 monetization tool for Internet display advertising," he said. "To exercise behavioral targeting successfully you need scale both from a reach perspective as well as profile-data perspective."

Platform A builds on the success of Advertising.com, which operates a third-party display network, and integrates behavioral-targeting specialist Tacoda, mobile media network Third Screen Media, video ad serving platform Lightningcast, and the global ad server ADTECH. The recently acquired companies are keeping their names.

Executive leadership

Curtis G. Viebranz was named AOL executive vice president and president of Platform A, reporting to AOL president and COO Ron Grant.

Viebranz was formerly CEO of Tacoda. Reporting to him will be Lynda Clarizio, who continues to head Advertising.com, and Kathy Kayse, who will run AOL brand solutions, focusing on custom solutions leveraging inventory and the assets across Platform A for top brand advertisers.

"In line with that view, harnessing the different Time Warner publishing properties to help sell ads to their lucrative audiences wherever they could be found online will play an important role in Time Warner's efforts to better monetize ad space," Shkedi said. "Placing Curt Viebranz, Tacoda's CEO and a former Time Inc executive, as the head of the group is therefore a very smart move."

AOL will relocate its corporate headquarters to 770 Broadway in New York, where AOL's New York-based advertising and programming operations also will be based.

AOL will continue to have significant operations in Dulles, VA, as well as offices in Mountain View, CA, and other locations.

"With the recent announcement by AOL, it is clear that it is trying to strategically position itself to capture a bigger piece of the pie in the enormous online ad market, which I think is terrific for the industry as a whole," said Mike Sprouse, CMO of AzoogleAds. "It fosters competition which in the end serves both advertisers and consumers better, which should be the goal.

"AOL is a very well-known brand and the key for it is to show that it is a thought leader in the ad space," he continued. "In order to lead the industry, companies first have to keep up, and AOL is clearly doing so with this announcement,"   Sprouse said. "Another thing this move signifies is that the overall online ad space is not only healthy and already robust, but is becoming increasingly competitive with rapid change."

AOL separately announced an agreement with international personal computer retailer Hewlett-Packard to offer co-branded, localized versions of its portal, toolbar and search on HP desktop and notebook PCs. Under the agreement, the co-branded portal will be set as the default homepage. The co-branded toolbar and search function will be default settings in various countries worldwide.

Under the new agreement, AOL will provide HP with co-branded local language portals and toolbars, as well as search solutions for each relevant country.

A press release read, in part, "These announcements are part of a series of aggressive steps AOL is taking to grow its advertising business and increase the size and engagement of its worldwide audience based on four key pillars: building a world-leading display advertising network; products and programming leadership on the Web; rapid international growth; and right-sizing the company's cost structure."

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