AOL's behavioral ad service to premiere under 'open' mobile platform

After spending the last few years in a whirlwind of activity that, in the end, got it just as far along as if it had been in limbo, a kick in the tail by new Time Warner CEO Bewkes has AOL back in gear, with a mobile premiere for its new ad platform.

Back when Jeffrey Bewkes was being groomed to succeed Richard Parsons as CEO of Time Warner, it was plainly obvious his pet project upon assuming the helm would be AOL -- specifically, either giving it a specific mission or being done with it. At lightning speed, Bewkes has opted for the former strategy; and this morning in Barcelona, AOL is making clear it's no longer a dial-up service. It's a platform for advertising, and mobile is where the action is.

This morning, attendees at the GSMA Mobile World Congress are seeing AOL's demonstrations of a concept called the Open Mobile Platform. Essentially it's a way of wrapping Web-driven applications for mobile users in a new XML-based markup language that can be parsed by a lightweight, apparently downloadable client on the user's handset. Different lightweight clients will be made available for BlackBerry, BREW, Java, Linux, Symbian, and Windows Mobile, though the language itself will be cross-platform.

Here's the catch: Developers will be encouraged to use AOL's next-generation advertising platform along with its own applications servers, and may be enticed to do so through a share in the platform's ad revenues.

Last September, rather than announce it was selling off AOL, Time Warner executives took the wraps off of something it's calling Platform-A, the product of its July 2007 acquisition of a company called Tacoda. It's an advertising platform with very, very granular behavioral marketing, with the objective of analyzing user behavior across AOL-hosted sites and portals and making its findings usable by advertising clients.

Platform-A provides the underpinning for AOL's Open Mobile Platform, and AOL's arsenal of associated brands including AOL Video, Mapquest, Truveo, and Winamp will be leveraged to help give mobile apps not just more functionality but more user appeal.

It also includes a lucrative in-stream advertising system for video, which may play a special role in the mobile space where video streams can consume the whole screen. Whereas DoubleClick's display ads can't exactly go very far with mobile video unless the streaming area is shrunken, Platform-A will adopt overlay technology that places the ad in the stream, in a manner similar to what cable TV networks pioneered and what broadcast TV networks have embraced this year.

While a Web site has been created for AOL's new mobile endeavor, no sign of the new XML language itself can be found there yet. Instead, it's being premiered in Barcelona, and may make its way to the public in the coming days.

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