Thursday, October 8, 2009

OMG! AOL Launches New Teen Site

By Emily Steel; Source: Wall Street Journal

Cupcakes! Twitter! Twilight! Selena Gomez!

AOL is plunging into the world of all things tween with the launch of new pop culture blog JSYK.

Text-speak for “just so you know,” JSYK features the latest on celebrities, technology and general news for the 9- to 15-year-old set. Recent posts — punctuated with plenty of exclamation points!!! — include stories about a record-breaking 1,316-pound chocolate cupcake and “breaking news” updates on Miley Cyrus’s visit to the emergency room. Visitors can see indie-rock band Death Cab for Cutie’s new video, “Meet Me on the Equinox,” and take a quiz about whether 21-year-old “Harry Potter” star Rupert Grint is a “real estate wizard.”

Two AOL staffers are writing for the site, which also includes contributions from tweens themselves. Five girls are blogging from the first Tween Girl Summit in Washington this weekend, as part of AOL’s sponsorship of the event. JSYK also features submissions from Teen Ink, a national magazine featuring poetry, fiction and nonfiction written by 13- to 19-year-olds.

JSYK adds to AOL’s growing stable of content targeted at kids and parents, including and In July, AOL announced a partnership with children’s media company A Squared Entertainment to publish Web cartoons, featuring Warren Buffett, Martha Stewart, Giselle B√ľndchen and Carl Sagan.

AOL has been ramping up its production of original content in the past year as part of a broader strategy under CEO Tim Armstrong. It is in the midst of its transition from a subscription-based ISP to an advertising-based digital-media company and is preparing to separate from media giant Time Warner later this year.

At this time last year, about 70% of the content on AOL’s sites came from outside publishers. Today, that ratio has flipped, with AOL creating about 70% of the content on its sites, said Bill Wilson, president of AOL Media. AOL has focused most of its publishing efforts on text-based content and now is boosting its production of videos, mobile and other interactive content.

“We think there’s a big opportunity. Traditional media has obviously had difficulties there with its cost structures. For us, we can leverage the size of our audience and our technology,” he said.

AOL is hoping to replicate the success of its gadget site Engadget and entertainment joint-venture TMZ with a flurry of new ones, such as Politics Daily and DailyFinance. But its previous efforts in the teen area have flopped.

It has seen steep declines in traffic to its teen-focused site, which will be folded into JSYK. The site attracted 371,000 unique U.S. visitors in August, down 68% from the 1.2 million it attracted during the same period last year, according to comScore. Mr. Wilson said that primarily aggregated content from other publishers, and that JSYK will feature more original content.

“This audience is akin to any audience we are targeting. You have to be pretty authentic,” he said.

JYSK faces steep competition. Alloy Media + Marketing, the New York company behind the “Gossip Girl” book-turned-TV series, as well as the “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” book-to movie series, is becoming a major force on the Web. It operates the largest teen network on the Web, attracting 11.3 million unique U.S. visitors in August, more than double its audience in the same period last year, according to comScore.

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