AOL: You ain't seen nothing yet

Today's America Online is only the tip of the iceberg, according to AOL Studios president Ted Leonsis.

Jim Hu Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Jim Hu
covers home broadband services and the Net's portal giants.
Jim Hu
2 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--Today's America Online is only the tip of the iceberg, according to AOL Studios president Ted Leonsis.

With the integration of its recently acquired properties--such as its ICQ client and Netscape Communications--AOL's business will only get bigger as the Internet increasingly becomes a mass-market medium with AOL-owned properties dominating the Internet experience.

Speaking at the BancBoston Robertson Stephens Tech '99 conference here, Leonsis said the key to AOL's success will be pinned to its multiple brands, such as ICQ, its AOL.com Web portal, CompuServe, MovieFone, and the Netcenter portal, which AOL will get as part of its acquisition of Netscape. The combination of these properties will allow AOL to reach a significant majority of all Web users by going beyond advertising and into new realms of e-commerce, direct marketing, and other communications tools.

Leonsis said AOL's signature phrase, "You've got mail"--so widely recognized that it was used as the title of a popular motion picture in December--will take a back seat to "Are you there?" Leonsis said the latter highlights AOL's ability to connect to its users both online and off.

"We believe that in this new world, just as we've made a value proposition with 'You've got mail,' we think the next big thing is 'Are you there?'" he said.

Leonsis said the new phrase will underscore AOL's drive to create a large database of registered users throughout its network of sites, a database it will use to offer more products and services.

"We think that if we can do that through ICQ and AOL and Netscape and AOL Instant Messenger, we now have about 60 million members in our overall database," he said.

Leonsis made his remarks at a time when AOL is pushing to extend its online dominance into the free Web space that is occupied by heavyweights Yahoo, Excite, and Lycos. AOL.com, the company's Web portal, is one of the most highly trafficked sites on the Web, primarily because it is the default page for the company's 16 million subscribers.

AOL is beginning to shift its attention toward turning its ICQ client into a "communications portal" by capitalizing on its constant presence on the computer screen. Leonsis said the client launched today and can be downloaded off the ICQ Web site.

ICQ's increased spotlight also underscores AOL's drive to use the PC screen, or desktop, as its primary beachhead in the Internet war. Leonsis said AOL hopes that its online service, its ICQ client, and the Netscape browser will become commonplace alongside Microsoft Windows.

"AOL Inc. as a company now has three ways to take over either all or a portion of your desktop," he said.