By Mike Shields
What we've seen to date on the Web, content-wise, is the
equivalent of ultimate Frisbee, according to Tim Armstrong, chief executive
officer of AOL.
During a keynote session on Monday at the MIXX
Conference here, Armstrong predicted that over the next decade the Internet
would enter a new phase during which the quality of content online will reach
the medium's potential. In making that prediction, he alluded to an old
highlight from the early days of ESPN when longtime anchor Chris Berman
delivered the score in an obscure championship game from an ultimate Frisbee
event. Of course, since that time, ESPN has become one of the most powerful
brands in the world and regularly showcases the top sporting events.
The Web should follow a similar path, believes Armstrong. During his keynote
address, he argued that over the past two decades growth on the Internet has
been driven by technology that provides users access, followed by the rise of
platforms that make navigating the Web easier, i.e., "the pipes."
Starting in 2010, the Web will see growth coming from "really what is
going to come through the pipes," he said. "Content always trails
distribution," he added. "When we think about the Internet . . . we
feel like we are in Chris Berman mode.
The hope is that the
upcoming content evolution will be led by AOL, which has doubled down its
commitment to original content in the past year or so, much of which is
produced by professional journalists. During a session with reporters earlier
in the day, AOL Media president Bill Wilson said, heading into next year, AOL
would produce 75 percent of its own content, up from less than 30 percent last
Some of AOL's newer forays into original content have been
aimed at underserved demographics, such as young males or niche music fans.
That's likely to be the path the company continues on. Armstrong in his address
described what he called "Blockbuster moments" — times when a
traditional, brick-and-mortar business starts struggling, providing an opening
for a leaner digital company to swoop in and siphon off business. He was
referring to a recent announcement that Blockbuster plans to close more than
1,500 stores, providing a window for companies like Netflix and other online
He foresees many similar opportunities occurring
in the Web content arena, or as he put it, "large white spaces." It's
those "white spaces" where he believes AOL could dominate. "We
want to build the world's best content at the highest scale," he said.