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Web video eyes TV ad dollars, goes ga-ga for upfronts

Google and AOL are getting into the groove of touting Web video ad inventory in advance. And they're not alone.

Google and AOL are going upfront-happy to sell their online video inventory in a move that emulates common practices by television networks.

In a practice known as the upfronts, television networks sell shows and ad space for the season ahead. The upfronts are a handy way to sell ad inventory in advance and garner predictable revenue streams.

Now Web video players are getting into the act.

Last week, Google executives noted that YouTube would be holding upfronts in May. And now AOL is getting into the act.

Just today, AOL said that it will offer "guaranteed audience delivery for online video advertising campaigns bought across its properties." These video guarantees will use Nielsen data to sell based on reach, frequency and demographics.

AOL plans to host advertisers April 24 at a Digital Content Newfronts presentation. NewFronts is a conference hosted by advertising agency Digitas.

Notice that AOL isn't calling the powwow an upfront, but it's clear that's where the company is heading. AOL is pitching original programs "Sessions," "Heidi Klum on AOL," "Moviefone's Unscripted," and "The Engadget Show."

That AOL powwow, however, is likely to be a mere warmup for YouTube, the biggest Web video player on the block. Google said that YouTube has more than 800 million monthly users uploading an hour of video per second.

Last week, Nikesh Arora, chief business officer at Google, highlighted YouTube's brand power. Google's big plan is to translate that brand into ad dollars. Arora said:

We're seeing a breakthrough on brands. More than at any point in the last decade of online advertising, we're at a point where major brand advertisers, from movie studios to CPG companies, are finally looking to digital media as a central part of their marketing efforts. We are making huge progress. YouTube has gone from an interesting ad buy to a key buy for brands. In May we'll be hosting our first upfront for brands and agencies showcasing the latest channel content and opportunities for marketers, something television has been doing forever, we will do that for YouTube [in the year].

Google and AOL aren't alone. The Wall Street Journal reported in February that Yahoo, Hulu, and Microsoft are also planning upfronts.