AOL to World: Here's Broadband

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Three announcing a new high-speed plan of attack, America Online launched its first nationwide broadband-marketing blitz during the March 23 Academy Awards telecast.

The marketing campaign — reportedly worth more than $35 million, although the AOL Time Warner Inc. unit would not confirm that number — is intended to soften up the broadband beachhead as the world's largest Internet-service provider unveils its revamped high-speed service today (March 31).

Using the slogan, "Welcome to the World Wide WOW," the new service aimed at AOL's 27 million online customers will offer beefed up content and added services.

The ongoing product marketing campaign will concentrate on the fact "that AOL Broadband exists," AOL Broadband president Lisa Hook said. "We've never done a national awareness campaign for broadband at all. We've only done local acquisition marketing, so this is really the first time that AOL has been talking about broadband broadly."

Talked to subs

Under the new leadership of CEO Jonathan Miller, AOL spent a fair amount of time researching what would go into the new, improved AOL Broadband. That included talking to some 25,000 customers, as well as a slew of tracking studies.

All of that was boiled down into a top list of product features used as a base for the new service, Hook said.

Starting today, AOL Broadband members will see a fairly major overhaul of their service, Hook said.

The changes focus on four key areas, including better firewall and parental-control features; advanced e-mail features that integrate with buddy lists and provide greater network file storage; and tools to share multimedia offerings among users.

Another focus is convenience, which becomes more important with an always-on broadband connection, Hook said. Convenience features include moving applications such as online yellow pages and movie listings to the broadband welcome screen and redesigning the page to become more dynamic.

Finally, information and entertainment elements also will get a boost. That includes the recent addition of video content from Cable News Network and ABC News — both proving quite popular now, with attention focused on the Iraq war.

"Streaming media is becoming much more prevalent, and it has really stepped up with the present conflict," Hook said "On day one of the conflict, streaming-media consumption was up 100 percent over our daily load and on day two, it was up 500 percent. It is just unbelievable."

AOL will try to lure new customers to the service with a special $9.95-per-month rate through 2003 — a fee on top of what they pay their service provider for a broadband connection.

After that, it will rise to the $14.95 monthly fee charged to existing customers.

"We think it is really important that we keep our eye on the ball here," Hook said. "The AOL member is special."

As for critics who've recently questioned AOL's ability to attract broadband customers, Hook replied that as of December, the ISP claimed 2.7 million broadband subscribers.

"And that was before we really had a product," she added. "Now that we have spent the time researching our member base, building a service experience to meet the needs of our member base and we are actually telling people about it, we should be quite successful."

'All about service'

Will customers think the greater content and services are worth an extra $9.95 a month? Hook thinks so.

"It's all about the service at the other end of the connection," she said. "So honestly, in my view, the faster the cable guys are able to sign up people to high-speed connections, the better for us. The better for our addressable market."

To that end, Hook said AOL is still hunting for more cable partners in addition to Time Warner Cable and Comcast Corp., although she declined to say if there were any deals looming in the near future.

"We are talking to everybody all the time about everything," Hook said.

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