One of AOL’s biggest blog success stories is firing its AOL ad sales team.
Celebrity gossip site TMZ — a joint-venture between Time Warner (TWX) subsidiaries AOL and Telepictures — has been such a smash hit since its launch that pointing at it has become the easiest way to argue that AOL can succeed with its post-spinoff plan to become the Time Inc of the 21st century.
But starting this month, TMZ will stop selling its ads through AOL ad sales and will hire-up to sell its inventory on its own, PaidContent reports.
The decision deepens the external and internal doubts about AOL’s future as a digital publisher.
No one doubts AOL’s ability to create lots of inventory, but even people inside the company do wonder about AOL’s capacity to sell valuable ads against any of it.
One of those people is Pam Russo, GM of TMZ.com.
She told PaidContent the site has outgrown AOL’s infrastructure and how AOL sells ads. PaidContent’s Rafat Ali read between the lines:
What she left unsaid: the Platform-A platform doesn’t fit well with custom ad units and site takeovers, something that has been the stable [sic] of other celeb sites (and a favourite of new TV show launches on sites such as Gawker and PerezHilton.com).
Pam’s comments echo criticisms we heard about AOL ad sales from TMZ’s founding editor Alan Citron back in March. Then, Alan said AOL sales have three problems in particular:
- There’s too much inventory to sell.
- AOL sales people lean too much on Advertising.com.
- Sales people don’t sell the individual sites as brands enough.
Given all these issues, we wonder if TMZ isn’t on to something here. Maybe more of AOL’s MediaGlow blogs should “fire” AOL ad sales and hire a small group of commissioned sales people who earn only when they sell premium ads. Then AOL’s ad network (Platform-A, Ad.com, whatever it’s called) could compete with others to fill whatever inventory goes unsold.
(A note: Reporting this story, PaidContent wonders if the news suggests that TMZ will become a seperate company after AOL spins out from Time Warner later this year. We don’t know whether or not that will happen, but we do know if it did, it would come as a surprise to AOL executives.)
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