Another AOL Property Is Set For A Major Revamp

The new leadership at AOL.com is planning a changes to its programming strategy and existing staff. One source said as many as 20 people have been laid off in what is being described as “starting from scratch.”

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AOL is planning a major revamp of one of its largest assets — and no, it’s not Patch.

The company is looking to change the direction of the AOL.com homepage, which still attracts a surprising 7.4 million unique visitors daily. As part of the changes, which are being led by AOL’s new president of AOL.com and lifestyle brands Maureen Sullivan, as many as 20 people on the AOL.com team have been removed, according to a source familiar with AOL’s online operations. (Capital New York first reported layoffs earlier this month.)

An AOL representative declined to comment on personnel issues.

Since its heyday in 1996, when it was the largest web page in the world, outranking even Yahoo.com according to ComScore, AOL.com has been overtaken by other web sites. AOL.com has since been bundled into Comscore’s overall AOL property traffic.

The new plan calls for AOL.com to develop original content aimed squarely at its biggest audience — of which more than half are women. About 70% of the site’s visitors are over the age of 35, and more than half of AOL.com’s visitors have a household income in excess of $60,000, making it an attractive audience from both a content perspective and an advertising perspective.

“I think, job number one in my mind is, I have 7.4 million people that show up every day,” said Sullivan in an interview with Buzzfeed. “If I were a store, I would be remiss if I wasn’t laser-focused on making that experience great for them.”

The company plans to make video a big part of that, too. Sullivan, who took over as president in October, recently hired Brian Balthazar from HGTV to be Executive Producer & Head of Programming for AOL.com to help spearhead the revamp. (He starts at the beginning of the new year.)

In addition to AOL’s own original content, Balthazar will have access to AOL’s large video library — which syndicates content from EPSN, Discovery and other large programmers — to build out the AOL.com home page. AOL’s original production unit launched a slate of 15 shows, and the company, citing ComScore data, says it serves more video ads online than any other company. Subtle tweaks to the site already started going live about two weeks ago.

“Bringing more of that to the page and family of brands, and creating a richer experience — it can be subtle how those nuances can shape peoples’ perception of a brand,” Balthazar said. “Tie into these things that are still very AOL, it benefits our users and it benefits us here.”

Added Sullivan, “If AOL hasn’t been on your mind for the last 5 or 9 years, we can come up with some original programming that gets your attention, you’re gonna think differently about what we do.”

As part of the revamp — and a cynic might say to help replace fired employees — AOL recently launched a “page” program for AOL.com where it seeks out a number of “web-savvy” individuals to work with AOL as part of a six-month program.

“We love a fresh, unique perspective,” Sullivan said. “The pages have been a new recent addition to our team. I don’t think a lot of them were loyal AOL users before they got here. It’s fascinating not only hearing our users’ perspectives.”

Update: Capital New York first reported a round of 20 layoffs centered around AOL’s home page. The post has been updated to include credit and a link to the story.

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