AOL’s Armstrong: Web Content Evolution Coming in 2010

According to Tim Armstrong, chief executive officer of AOL, what we’ve seen to date on the Web, content-wise, is the equivalent of ultimate frisbee.

During a keynote session on Monday (Sept. 21) at the Mixx Conference in New York, Armstrong predicted that over the next decade the Internet will 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 committment 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 will produce 75 percent of its own content, up from less than 30 percent last year.

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”—moments 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 over 1,500 stores, providing a window for companies like Netflix and other online movie distributors.

He forsees many similar opportunities occuring 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. “Period. Stop.”

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