January 10, 2005 11:28 AM PST

Net's top of the pops, now on TV

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After years in which online entertainment has been boosted by content originally created for television, magazines or movies, the Internet is finally giving back.

America Online said Monday that its music programming, much of it created specifically as online content, has now also become the top free video-on-demand service on Time Warner's cable TV network.

"We are thrilled with the response," Lynne Costantini, senior vice president of programming at Time Warner Cable, said in a statement. "Video on demand is taking off with consumers, and we expect usage to continue to grow."

The AOL music service is one of several online sites that have become competitive with traditional media over the last year or so, rather than being viewed as strictly an experiment or a complement to offline rivals.

Record label executives now say that AOL's Sessions, which shows live, in-studio performances by artists, along with other AOL music shows and Yahoo's Launch, have become nearly as important as broadcast radio in promoting new albums.

Even lesser-known brands are becoming key stops for big offline media companies. Social networking site MySpace.com, for example, has become a powerful way to market music over the past year, with the group R.E.M. even releasing its newest album there first, music executives say.

AOL executives have said in the past that the company hopes to evolve from its roots as a dial-up Internet service provider into a producer of broadband content that could attract viewers even outside the AOL subscriber base. They've compared the future of the service to the Home Box Office (HBO) cable channel, for which cable customers pay an extra fee in order to see unique content.

Although still free, the music programming is providing some foundation for that ambition.

Since January, Time Warner Cable has offered access to much of AOL's music content through its on-demand digital cable programming service, which also offers free access to programming from Comedy Central, CNN and the Food Network, among others.

In that time, the music content has become the most popular of the offerings, with more than 7.6 million videos or shows watched a month, a company representative said. That's still small compared with the traffic on the AOL Web site, which attracts up to 4 million viewers to the Sessions performances per week, but it is a sign of growth.

AOL also said Monday that it is changing the name of its cable-based music programming to Music On Demand, and it is adding the New York and New Jersey markets to its lineup.

 

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