The various Digital NewFronts coverage from the last few weeks or so has been, to some degree, quite dizzying. The only reason I’m singling out AOL in this piece is because I feel like I have more or less grown up with the platform. I was there for their first version and subsequent iterations – each time anxiously anticipating the new CD to download the latest update. In my eyes, AOL has been producing varying levels of content for eons, however, for 2014, their production plans are relying heavily on video.
This got me thinking: will AOL revert back into a paid service? Think of it this way – they used to charge users a monthly fee just for the privilege of signing online. They also, at that point, were producing loads of editorial content for users to consume as well as playing in the spaces of forums and chat rooms (full disclosure: I was a self-proclaimed chat room junkie). Now, though, they’re renewing seasons of content from names like Nicole Richie and Sarah Jessica Parker, then picking up a new show from, of all people, James Franco. This is all in the hopes that these various forms of video production will attract a wider variety of eyes back to AOL-island.
It’s true that video content is king, and it feels like all these players in the digital space are trying to pull in hyper-relevant names in order to persuade not viewers (and subsequently, advertisers), that they’re the only ones with exclusive access to their favorite names and topics in popular culture.
This thought is clearly a little half-baked, but when you think about it, AOL’s model used to charge for what was quality content at the time and now they rely wholly on advertisers to fill that void. Not that the removal of their old subscriptions-based model left a deep void by any means, but, when you think about it, they’re going to take the time to actually produce higher quality, hyper-culturally relevant video content in the hopes of bringing millions of more eyes to them. Isn’t that essentially what Netflix does these days? They’re a subscription-based company that previously showed video content produced by other people and now they’re making hits of their own and just increased their monthly subscription fee.
Wouldn’t it more or less make sense for a company like AOL who is going to invest in big names to switch their model around a bit? I watched the first season of Candidly Nicole mostly out of curiosity and was instantly hooked by Ms. Richie and her silly antics. From what I recall, though, each of those videos were roughly 5-minutes or so. Maybe AOL will stick to their current advertisers-only revenue model until they decide to produce longer form content? Seems like an interesting equation to me: Bigger Names + Longer Videos = $$ = AOL is Netflix. It’s only a matter of time!