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AOL Rebrands Its Advertising.com Group

Move follows new revenue reporting structure

AOL’s Advertising.com Group has had a name problem since it was born in May 2011: people confused the overall umbrella business with its namesake display network.

This is something George Foreman’s family deals with, not one of the Internet’s premier entities. So AOL is finally ending the confusion and rebranding the Ad.com Group as AOL Networks.

“The Ad.com brand made people think of the display business,” ignoring the group’s other business lines like video, said AOL Networks CEO Ned Brody. Most customers buy at least two products from the 22,000-publisher-plus Ad.com Group’s array of businesses, he said, “but we have not done as good a job in getting customers and Wall Street to understand the breadth of the business.”

The decision to rebrand was made within the last month and is part of AOL CEO Tim Armstrong’s decision last summer to shift the company’s business reporting structure to a segmented basis and offer investors more transparency into its performance. AOL will report its fourth quarter earnings on Friday, marking the first earnings report under the new segmented structure.

Previously, AOL broke down its revenue into three categories: advertising, subscription and other. But with advertising contributing the bulk of the total and the other two categories consistently on the wane, AOL will now label its revenue streams the AOL Membership Group (AOL Mail, search, etc.), the Content Brands Group (properties like Huffington Post and TechCrunch) and AOL Networks.

The makeup of AOL Networks will remain roughly the same as that of the Advertising.com Group, although a few changes have been made since the group’s inception. Three businesses—5min Media, Sponsored Listings and Studio Now—are no longer listed as separate entities.

5min was rebranded last year as the AOL On Network; Sponsored Listings is a sub-brand of Advertising.com; and Studio Now has been spun off into an independent company with AOL retaining an investment stake. AOL has also made the recently acquired dynamic creative opimtization firm Buysight part of Advertising.com though it remains a standalone brand. “We’re reducing the number of brands we talk about in the marketplace, but we still have the products,” Brody said.

More consolidation could be on the way. AOL On Network and goviral each specialize in video, with former focused domestically and the latter internationally. Brody said AOL On Network, already notching 67 million unique viewers, will make a global push in 2013, and goviral, in 90 countries, may experience a strong U.S. push this year. As part of those pushes making two similar products available in the same marketplaces, AOL Networks will consider how best to represent them to marketers. “Wait a couple months,” Brody said.

AOL Networks’ other businesses ought to remain relatively status quo for now.

Ad.com spans 596 million global unique visitors, 4,000 advertisers and more than 5,000 active publishers with AOL’s owned-and-operated inventory “signficant but nowhere near the majority of the inventory [the network] serves,” Brody said.

AOL’s cross-screen ad server and ad management platform ADTECH is “evolving from ad serving to much more of a supply-side platform that enables us to offer optimization and yield management for publishers,” Brody added, hinting at the not-so-secret SSP AOL has waiting in the wings.

Also, AOL’s Pictela unit, responsible for the 200-plus publisher Devil Network, continues to grow adoption of its mobile Road Devil rich-media unit. But what really interests Brody is tying all of AOL Networks’ businesses together to create a premium and programmatic ad business that spans desktops, smartphones, tablets and connected TVs.

“There’s no company out with the network scale and premium formats and premium content addressable across all four screens. That is us. Not Google, not anyone else,” Brody said.

To that end, AOL Networks' aim for the first half of 2013 is to become what Brody claimed will be the first premium network with the ability to retarget users across screens from display into mobile. Others are also working toward that goal, with many taking a probabilistic approach that correlates users’ behavior on mobile and desktop devices and hypothesizes that the user on one is the same as on the other. AOL Networks is exploring “a couple different approaches,” Brody said, including the probabilistic method as well as capitalizing on users logging into AOL products like AOL Mail.

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