AOL’s Tim Armstrong Stresses Centrality of Content at 360i’s Digital Marketing Summit

September 16, 2010

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong delivered the opening keynote at 360i’s annual Digital Marketing Summit in New York City today. While much of it fittingly discussed what AOL is doing, he put it all in the context of why AOL is making these moves and what the bigger implications are for media and brands.

He said, “The biggest marketing leverage we have is our own pages.” AOL measured what percent of a page actually has content on it. On average, it was 18%. He added, “Imagine if you went to ESPN or CNN and only 18% of your screen had content.”

Then he discussed the different screens consumers use and wondered aloud which one is most important. His take: it’s all about the TV. Perhaps it’s a new take on an old adage: you can take the AOL out of Time Warner but you can’t take the Time Warner out of AOL, given Time Warner’s TV holdings. He pointed to Apple TV as a strong example of the convergence of TV with digital media, from its age controls to how well YouTube and other online content are integrated. He said, “The amazing thing for me is that my kids are smart enough to know that they get up in the morning and go right to Apple TV on the giant plasma screen.” Then he added, “We’re betting on another disruption curve… There’s a Twitter/Foursquare revolution that’s going to happen in your living room,” he said, regarding to plasma TVs.

Armstrong said AOL is partnering with the “world’s best brands.” This summer, they partnered with the Jonas Brothers to launch the site Cambio, and within a month it was the number three tween property on the internet.

Another recent launch is Patch: AOL ran an algorithm against over 60 variables and plotted every single town in the United States, measured against the importance to the economy and the world, and they’ve started to digitize all of the towns and then drop a full-time journalist into it. He said, “As televisions have scaled back their local news coverage, we are scaling up.” They’re able to bring brands to a local level. About 50% of the content on Patch is put up by communities.

Here are Armstrong’s three key trends for the future:

  1. The web is going to get redesigned. We’re sitting at the new web. You’ll see a hefty change from an application-driven web to a well-designed web.
  2. Local is going to become extraordinarily important
  3. The most important screen is definitely the plasma screen – look for embedded computers in the plasmas coming out. Time spent at home will be a very big shift.

A few other thoughts:

On brands: The one thing I believe that cuts through commoditized technology is brands. If you can partner with brands, you have an arrow in your quiver. Just fighting on your own with data and technology is probably going to have a limited upside.

On social media: Content sharing is usually the second or third most popular activity on social sites. That’s AOL’s focus – they want their content to get everywhere to get massive amounts of content distributed through social networks. “Our goal is to put the gas in the gas tank in social.”

You can read all the tweets from 360i’s Digital Marketing Summit by following the 360iDMS hashtag on Twitter.