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Company News: AOL beats networks in race to showcase new shows

AOL stepped up its bid to capture advertising dollars normally spent on television by showcasing five new interactive programs a month before the broadcast networks announce their fall lineups.

The online company hosted more than 500 advertising executives and media planners at a “First Look” showcase Tuesday — what Chief Executive Randy Falco described as a “coming out party for AOL” as a major online advertising platform.

“What we’re interested in is making sure when advertisers and agencies are deciding what their budgets are for the coming year, they understand there’s an enormous shift going on,” the former NBC executive told The Associated Press.

The First Look event, at the corporate headquarters of AOL LLC parent Time Warner Inc., comes as AOL seeks to increase its advertising revenue to make up for rapid declines in its legacy Internet access business.

AOL announced ad-supported initiatives scheduled to launch this fall or early next year: a site where users can submit photos, video and stories for use on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and three games, including a second season of reality TV master Mark Burnett’s “Gold Rush.”

A fifth program, a game based on the upcoming “Shrek the Third” movie, is to launch April 26.

The major networks typically announce their fall schedules in May as part of events called “upfronts,” so named because networks use them to pre-sell the bulk of their advertising for hit shows.

“A Senate committee chairman said Tuesday Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. has “a steep hill to climb” in showing that its proposed purchase of XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. will not hurt competition in the audio entertainment market.

Sirius Chief Executive Mel Karmazin told members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee a combined satellite radio provider would benefit consumers by letting them access both companies’ services for a diminished price.

Both companies currently have subscription fees of $12.95. Karmazin said a merged company would be able to provide both companies’ programming on one “interoperable” radio for less than the $25.90 it would currently cost to subscribe to both services.

Karmazin also said the merged company would offer consumers the option of subscribing to fewer channels for a monthly price lower than $12.95.