AOL Banks on Brand Integration

NEW YORK AOL has unveiled a lineup of original Web programming that it promised would weave brands into the interactive experience.

The Web portal plans to roll out five new programs over the next year, including an Internet version of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, an interactive gaming experience tied to Shrek the Third and an online competition to build a virtual civilization.

AOL is also building on its “Gold Rush” partnership with producer Mark Burnett for a new version, “Gold Rush Goes to Hollywood,” debuting in the fall.

According to Mike Kelly, president of AOL Media Networks, the company hopes to follow the “Gold Rush” model of weaving brands into the programming experience. “Gold Rush” attracted sponsorships from Chevrolet, Coca-Cola, T-Mobile and other brands.

“As opposed to some online programming that tends to be a linear experience, we’ll have an unbelievable amount of engagement and interactivity,” he said.

While Kelly is bullish the programs will find receptive audiences among AOL’s 114 million monthly users, he is not echoing former Yahoo media chief Lloyd Braun by predicting one would constitute the Web’s “I Love Lucy moment.”

He added, “The reason people love the Web is because they can use it to communicate, to find things, to be engaged in programming.” Such a moment “is never going to happen in this medium,” Kelly said.

AOL’s programming slate was part of a “First Look” presentation for advertisers, a TV-style push like Yahoo’s “Infront” held in February. Both are similar to the traditional upfront presentations by networks to excite advertisers with previews of the upcoming season’s shows.

AOL is quick to point out that it is one of only a few online players to boast TV network-like scale in the fragmented digital media landscape.

“People are still drawn to big central focal points like AOL and others,” Kelly said.