America Online tomorrow (Oct. 15) will release its new version 8.0 software package — new chairman and CEO Jonathan Miller's first effort to better serve the needs of AOL's narrowband and broadband members.
For the first time, AOL 8.0 will have a dedicated broadband-content section, reflecting the Internet-service provider's efforts to increase high-speed penetration.
"It's the first time the premiere product has been differentiated for broadband," said Shawn Hardin, senior vice president of product and programming for AOL Broadband.
"We've established a broadband-specific view into the core service," he added. "Broadband members have different kinds of online behavior. This strategy is targeted to them, to provide a member experience that is increasingly compelling."
AOL counts 3.7 million broadband users, Hardin said. Most bring their own high-speed access, via cable or digital subscriber line, and pay AOL either $23.90 a month or $14.95 a month.
Those broadband subscribers can now have their own dedicated broadband home page within AOL 8.0. The page provides for "seamless integration of video right inside the front door," Hardin said.
A Video@AOL section allows members to see current or archived video from all of the online service's content channels. It's paired with a similar Radio@AOL section on the bottom of the broadband home page.
The radio feature pulls together all of the existing offerings within AOL.
Music is a key element. AOL has launched Sessions@AOL, where subscribers can access backstage concert footage or music videos.
On the left-hand side of the home page, there are four icons for mail, pictures, "people and chat" and AOL's radio feature.
The "You've Got Pictures" feature is designed to address the growing trend of online picture sharing.
"Sixty percent of all broadband users have created online content or shared files," said Hardin, with image files shared most often.
The people and chat feature allows users to stay connected to electronic mail and instant messaging features while they are viewing broadband content.
The information that's displayed on the home page changes through the day and week, according to the information needs of subscribers, Hardin said. For instance, more features about movies and movie trailers pop up on Thursdays, as users plan their entertainment choices for the weekend.
Senior AOL Time Warner Inc. executives have recently said AOL is aiming to become what pay TV service Home Box Office represents in cable — a place for high-quality unique content.
"In a crowded sea of content, HBO pops out," Hardin said. "It's programming you can't find anywhere else."