Not Just America Online: AOL Makes Its CES Pitch To Go Global

jim-norton-cesLike many vendors and publishers at CES, AOL is using the conference as an opportunity to update its agencies and brands on what’s going on at the company and to solidify global partnerships.

AOL, after all, had a busier year than most of its peers, having been acquired by Verizon while being acquisitive itself – notably in buying embattled mobile ad tech shop Millennial Media.

“It’s difficult for our partners to keep up,” said Jim Norton, AOL’s head of global media sales.

Norton’s role is speaking to those advertiser and agency partners, in an attempt to position AOL as one of their preferred global partners. He spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: What are you looking to accomplish at CES?

JIM NORTON: The No. 1 priority that trumps all is mobile. Mobile was a huge part of our 2015. That starts with Verizon. Microsoft has a huge mobile component, and the Microsoft integration gives us a far more significant global footprint. And there was the Millennial Media acquisition. Last year we had access to 30 mobile apps based on first-party apps we control. Now it’s 65,000 through Millennial Media.

That’s a lot to onboard. What’s the status?

We’ve completed the integration of all of these things. 2015 was about starting with the vision: mobile, video, global. And then filling in the gap areas by way of partnership and acquisition. The latter half of 2015 was about the integration. Now we’re moving into 2016, which is about operationalizing all of these different components with a key focus on the marketplace.

What specifically does that entail?

Making sure all back-end ad systems have been operationalized, according to how the marketplace wants to work with us. Single-invoice opportunities: the ability for us to go out and bundle our ad solutions into a consolidated offering as opposed to piecemeal.

How is that different from what AOL did in the past, with its One by AOL suite?

We’ve enhanced it and strengthened it. One by AOL a year ago was strong in mobile web, but not as strong in-app. Millennial Media solves that challenge. On the content side, we did a major partnership with NBCUniversal which feeds video content into our sites. In return we feed our premium content into NBCUniversal sites.

You also do original content through Go90. How is that selling and how do you differentiate that content from all the other original content out there?

Go90 is our direct focus on mobile video. And it changes the way we produce video. We’ve got to have shorter, more snackable video content that’s conducive to a mobile device.

Publicis has a deal with Go90. Doesn’t it also leverage Verizon’s data assets within that partnership?

They’re not using the Verizon data assets. We’re in the middle of an exclusive partnership with Publicis on Go90. The focus there is less about revenue generation and more about adoption and user experience. We’re doing testing with Publicis on what content is resonating best for brands and users.

Yahoo made waves last year by streaming an NFL game. Will AOL be doing that?

That’s not for me to talk about. It’s the folks on the Verizon team running the content partnership agreement. Go90 isn’t just about sports. It’s about a wide swath of programming that will attract a millennial-based audience.

Do you work with the Verizon team deciding what content should go on AOL?

We work closely with those guys on it.

Did Verizon have anything to do with the NBCUniversal partnership?

No. That was us.

Which content partnerships has Verizon brought in?

It’s the NFL, NBA, IndyCar. Those are specific to Go90, which is driven by the Verizon side – in conjunction with our team. We’re run very independently within Verizon. Tim Armstrong is still the CEO of AOL. The goal is to run the company and leverage the resources of Verizon.

Is AT&T still an AOL client?

Oh yeah. There are obviously concerns about data and privacy and we’ve gone to the utmost length to ensure, with all our partners, a level of data integrity. I won’t get into specifics about how it’s changed the relationship with the competitive telco providers, but we’ve been great performance partners with all of these folks. And there’s a specific need to ensure that partnership continues.

Agencies are excited about the prospect of tapping Verizon data. What’s available today, what will be available by the end of 2016?

We’re still in the very early stages of this. The Verizon deal only closed six months ago. We’ve gone through great lengths to ensure data integrity from the Verizon side, the AOL side and the first-party data that comes from our partners. We want to build an ecosystem that ensures an utmost level of data integrity and privacy. Until we feel we have got that licked, we’ll think about what that product rollout looks like. We have made a corporate decision to not get ahead of ourselves and start promising what we can bring to market from a data product standpoint.

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