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AOL's next adventure: theme parks

Seagram's Universal Studios inks a deal with America Online under which Universal's new theme park in Orlando, Florida, will feature AOL kiosks.

America Online is taking its strategic initiative "AOL Anywhere" on vacation.

The Internet giant signed a marketing deal with Seagram's Universal Studios that will bring AOL kiosks to Universal's new Island of Adventure theme park in Orlando, Florida, allowing visitors to check and send email, and to use instant messaging.

AOL's move into the theme park is part of its strategy--and increasingly that of other Net players--to push its presence beyond personal computers to portable devices. Last week, Amazon said its customers will be able to purchase items from any of its online stores using 3Com's new Palm VII wireless handheld device. AOL also recently cut a deal with 3Com to give users access to AOL email over the Palm devices.

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

AOL plans to use the kiosks, where visitors can receive the ubiquitous AOL subscriber software, to grow its membership of more than 18 million users. Attendants at the kiosks will give AOL tours to new users.

"It's a good move because it certainly will get the Internet hands-on applications to more of the mainstream of society," said Phil Leigh, an analyst at Raymond James. "I would think it would be the first of other steps along those lines."

Other potential locations for such kiosks are airports, train stations, theaters, and sporting events, analysts said.

"If it works [at Universal], I would assume they will try to replicate it elsewhere," Leigh said.

In return, Universal theme park will get a branded page on AOL where members can purchase tickets to the park and use its vacation planning services as well as a host of other merchandizing and e-commerce products.

Universal said that in addition to its theme parks, the media company is exploring other opportunities to accelerate its e-commerce activities by leveraging AOL's reach.

The pact will also extend to cross-promotion of Universal across five AOL brands, including its proprietary service, CompuServe, AOL.com, Netscape Netcenter, and Digital City. The companies expect that this initial project will lead to the integration of other AOL technology at the kiosks.