AOL (TWX) Recharges International Strategy, Launches Italy


No additional news on the potential mass AOL firings at AOL we noted and assessed last week.  Another couple of weeks of silence, and we’re going to have to conclude our source was drunk.

In the meantime, AOL launched a new free portal in Italy today.  This reminded us that AOL still has an international business, something we hadn’t considered since it dumped the AOL Europe access piece last year.  After a quick exchange with Anne Bentley in Dulles HQ, we’ve been reminded that AOL even has an international strategy, which is to grow like mad.

The company plans to launch at least 14 country-specific portals over the next 18 months, of which Italy is the third (Netherlands and Austria came earlier this year).  Importantly, more than half of the company’s 234 million monthly web users are outside the U.S., so the international push should help AOL strengthen a large and largely ignored asset.  If the company can figure out how to effectively tie the country portals into AIM and ICQ international users (a specific suggestion forthcoming), the international business could become a lot more valuable than most AOL observers currently think.

After the jump, a brief, annoted AOL International Q&A with Anne Bentley:

What are AOL’s non-US assets these days? AOL UK, Germany, and France. We introduced portals in India, Austria and the Netherlands earlier this year. We introduced Italy today. Over the next 18 months, we expect to add 10 more portals in Europe alone. We will also localise versions of our products — like — for the international market as well. In May, we acquired ADTECH, which is based and Frankfurt, and works with top publishers in 25 countries. also has offices in 10 european countries: London, England
Paris, France
Madrid, Spain
Oslo, Norway
Stockholm, Sweden
Copenhagen, Denmark
Hamburg, Germany
Helsinki, Finland
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Tokyo, Japan (joint venture with Japanese firm Mitsui, Inc.) How many of the 234 million users are outside the US? We have 114 million in the U.S. so that would be 120 million.  [The key here is market share in each country–international isn’t just one big glob.  Still, 120 million leaves a lot of room for solid share in particular markets.  We’ll explore this with AOL soon.] What are the assets of AOL Europe specifically? (and what is ownership percentage) Current assets in AOL Europe are portals in the UK, France, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands with more to come. Ownership of the portals is 100%. You’ll remember that we sold our access businesses in these countries in 2006. Are the country-specific portals in new countries or in countries in which AOL is already operating? Italy is new. Also new this year are Austria and the Netherlands. We launched India earlier this year as well (but that’s not Europe). How will AOL’s stuff be different than the many other portals in each country already? All of the portals have a basic set of features and functionality (Mail, News, Weather, Local information) to deliver against consumer expectations and needs. In each geography, though, we are working with local content providers to customise the portal for the audience. [Not particularly compelling given local and international competition in almost every market.]