In April this year when AOL launched its India portal, many said it was quite late in coming to India (compared to global rivals like Yahoo, Google and MSN, or even Indian players like Bennett Coleman’s Times Internet and rediff. com).But Jeffrey Bewkes, President & Chief Operating Officer, Time Warner, and soon-tobe CEO of Time Warner (AOL is part of Time Warner), maintains that the company is on time. “Look at the demography and internet penetration in the country. I don’t think we are late; in fact in a market like India, we are quite early,” he contends. AOL has, of course, been making up for the delay by launching a slew of products and services targeted at Indian users. Apart from the usual products, the portal’s directory offers content on Bollywood, cricket, Hollywood, education, along with blogs and games, amongst other features.
There’s an expert advice service named ‘Guru’, city-specific information on CityGuides, a recently-launched video search engine called Truevideo and language portals in Hindi and Tamil. Bewkes hasn’t been visiting India too often. But that, he says, is going to change from now on as more action shifts to the country. And the portal is just one prong of AOL’s India strategy. “Our acquisitions and developments like Third Screen Media (a mobile marketing firm) and Platform A (a display advertising platform it has developed), ADTECH (online ad-serving company), TACODA (a company that specialises in behavioral targeting solutions for advertisers and publishers) are important for the Indian market,” explains Ron Grant, President & COO, AOL, who was on his second visit to India within six months.
AOL is also getting its penetration act together. Its tie-up with MTNL gives it access to up to 70 per cent of broadband customers in India. AOL has also tied-up with HP to have in-built AOL services in HP’s laptops beginning January 2008. In a bid to attract users and to create brand awareness, the portal recently launched a series of television commercials targeted at teenagers. The commercial invites kids to participate in the “Bano TV Star contest” by visiting the AOL.in website and giving their feedback on it. Five contestants will get to feature in AOL’s next commercial.
The company, which has made Bangalore its headquarters for AOL, is also excited about “building future capabilities for the global market” in India. Bewkes says that the Indian market is important also because it gives the company an idea about models that will work in others countries too. Going by the mobile penetration in the country (approx. 20 per cent), Grant says the media company is now looking at business models around the wireless platform.