Net effect: For AOL, it's two moments in time

Redesign, open access bring added hits for music service

NEW YORK -- AOL's music site is consistently the most-visited destination in that category, according to Nielsen//NetRatings, thanks in part to the opening of the parent site in August and a redesign in April.

In April, AOL Music had 24.2 million unique visitors, topping its closest competitor, Yahoo Inc.'s music site, by more than 4 million. That same month last year, AOL's site ranked behind Yahoo's, with about 3 million fewer uniques for the frame, according to NetRatings.

One of the differences, according to Mike Rich, senior vp AOL Entertainment, is the fact that AOL on Aug. 2 opened its content doors to everyone on the Web, whereas before, only those with a paid e-mail account with the site could access areas like AOL Music.

Now, he said, the majority of the site's users come from outside the AOL network, happening upon the site from Google searches and blogs.

The portal's redesign, which kicked in April 2, added to the momentum, Rich said.

"Aug. 2 and April 2 were two big moments in time," he said. "We thought this through and did a lot of research and a lot of testing. The data really speaks to the outcome."

Features that encourage interactivity among users are especially popular, Rich said, including the site's Sessions series, in which artists perform stripped-down versions of their songs and then take questions from fans.

Rich pointed to recent performances by Rihanna and Linkin Park as being big drivers of traffic to the site.

Other popular areas on the site include Breakers, which highlights new artists, and First Listen, where users can listen to music before it is officially released.

"There are many things that are working," Rich said.

"It's hard to pinpoint one thing," he added.

Nielsen//NetRatings is owned by the Nielsen Co., parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.

All chart data provided by Nielsen//NetRatings NetView