- Disturbing Tha Peace is on the road promoting its coming album, “Golden Grain,” much as generations of musicians have before, performing their hottest songs and submitting to softball interviews. But instead of appearing on radio stations or MTV, they are taping a segment for Sessions@AOL, a series of short video programs that users of America Online can watch on their computers. (And even for performances by artists like Ludacris, whose work is laced with sexual themes, AOL insists on keeping a family-friendly vocabulary.)
With radio controlled by a few chains and MTV playing videos less and less, the vanguard of music promotion has rapidly moved to the Internet. And AOL’s music channel, with a vast audience of teenagers, has become the biggest force in online music promotion. That is why acts like Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones are introducing their new songs on AOL.
And the success of AOL Music, in turn, is why one of the few rising stars in the largely floundering online service is Kevin Conroy. Since joining AOL to run its music area early last year, Mr. Conroy, from the BMG label, has created fresh content and a big audience. And in July, he was promoted to be senior vice president in charge of AOL’s entertainment programming.
Indeed, much of what Mr. Conroy has done is being held out by AOL executives as an example of how it can revive its slowing subscriber growth. Jonathan Miller, America Online’s new chairman, intends to differentiate the service with distinctive programming, especially short video clips.
….”AOL is a brand name people trust,” said Aahmek Richards, the director of new media at Arista, which used AOL to promote Avril Lavigne. “They are able to really help break a band that is borderline but not quite there.”
A lingering question is whether AOL will unfairly favor Warner over other labels. Mr. Conroy says that he will typically try new programs first with Warner because it is easier to get started, but will then open them to its rivals. Yet of the nine acts featured so far this year in AOL’s artists of the month program — its most prominent promotional position — four are from Warner labels, double its share of the music market.
“We get more than our fair share of the slots,” said Paul Vidich, executive vice president of Warner Music.
Mr. Conroy says the music channel has been profitable, if not hugely so. Its biggest source of revenue has been corporate sponsorships of some of the site’s more popular features.
But it also has established partnerships with Britney Spears and ‘N Sync, who provided a range of original material, like a diary Ms. Spears kept on her tour. The artists in turn received a share of the advertising revenue on these sites.
AOL has a longstanding deal with CDNow to enable users to buy the music they are listening to. Mr. Conroy hopes that AOL will begin selling CD’s itself when the CDNow deal expires in January.
The biggest question facing AOL is what role it will play in a world where music is sold online. Of course the entire music industry is perplexed by this, especially in the face of Napster-like services, like KaZaA.
Mr. Conroy argues that as its audience expands, AOL will be able to get its users to pay for music. As an experiment, AOL and Warner Music offered a series of songs earlier this summer that users could download for 99 cents, billed to the credit card they use for the AOL service. Even though most of the songs were available free on KaZaA, thousands of users bought the singles.