Time Warner's ( TWX)AOL plans a big expansion of its blog offerings. The beleaguered Internet business launched
FanHouse, 75 blogs covering college, professional and fantasy football. Plans are in the works to add other sports including basketball, baseball, hockey, auto racing and golf. AOL is also increasing the number of stocks covered by its BloggingStocks blog, which started in April. "There is a ton of noise in the blogging space today,'' says Jason Calacanis, who sold his Weblogs blog network to Time Warner last year, in an email. "It is much different than when we started two or three years ago. Two or three years ago, you got traffic just because you were a blog -- for showing up -- now you have to earn it.'' BloggingStocks, which currently covers eight companies, will add Starbucks ( SBUX), ExxonMobil ( XOM) and the satellite-radio services in the fall, says Marty Moe, vice president and general manager for AOL Money & Finance. There will be 20 stock blogs running by next year and more may be added later, he says. AOL's blog expansion comes as advertisers are becoming increasingly interested in reaching people who read and write the online journals because it lets them target their messages to audiences which are passionately interested in particular subjects. The blog audience of about 32 million remains a fairly small percentage of the overall Web users, which means that advertisers tend to buy ads on blog networks like AOL's so they can reach the most people.
"Brands want to be there,'' says Ari Paparo, vice president of rich media for DoubleClick, an online advertising company that counts AOL as a client. "There is no doubt it.'' Advertisers are still leery about blogs and other so-called user-generated content since their quality can be poor. AOL has tried to address these concerns by having its bloggers adhere to ethical standards and have their posts subject to editing. Still, AOL has seen some success. Its
TMZ.com gossip site, which started last year, was first to report about Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic tirade following his drunk driving arrest. Wall Street, which has long seen AOL as a drag on Time Warner's stock, is hoping that some of that luck will rub off on AOL's other blogs. The online journals may help AOL lure in more users as it reinvents itself from a subscription business to one dependent on advertising, a move that analysts and investors say is overdue. Blogs alone aren't going to be enough to lure more users to AOL from rival sites, including Google ( GOOG), Yahoo! ( YHOO) and Microsoft's ( MSFT) MSN. Media habits are difficult to change once they've been established. Time Warner, parent of CNN and Warner Bros., expects to save $1 billion through next year as it quits marketing AOL's fading dial-up access. It's also cutting 5,000 jobs at the unit, which showed an anemic 2% revenue gain in the second quarter.