AOL more popular than telly?

Average Americans are more aware of AOL than the telly, a study finds

A new brand study from media research firm the Myers Group found that consumers ranked America Online ahead of all of the major US television networks.

Television consumers were asked to rank 70 media properties -- most of whom are clients of Myers -- based on variety of topics. The brands were then ranked on eight characteristics: frequently viewed; different from other networks; relevant to me; effectively communicates what it offers me; consistently fulfills my expectations; leader; valuable to me; proud to be a viewer.

The top ranked brands aren't exactly the most popular, or most watched. What they are, is "more differentiated", said Craig Leddy, senior vice president for market analysis. "Our contention is that a differentiated brand is going to have more value in an increasingly fragmented marketplace," he said. "The more you can stand out and leverage the characteristics of your service with consumers, the better off you can be."

So how differentiated is AOL? Among men, it was beaten only the Discovery Channel and the Weather Channel. Among women, it came in nineteenth.

But the interesting thing, Leddy said, is that it even registered on the survey, which was focused on television networks. "We were very surprised because first of all, consumers could have just said 'hey, they're not a TV brand,' " he said. "They could have just skipped them, but rated them very highly."

The responses to AOL were so strong, in fact that "the company could successfully extend its brand into any number of offline ventures," Jack Myers, CEO of the Myers Group, said in a release.

And it wasn't the only Internet brand to do well. Yahoo! placed 16th, ahead of 17th-ranked ABC and 21st-ranked CBS. Of other online brands measured, the Microsoft Network came in at 36th and Sony Online was ranked 69th. The top 10 brands ranked by the survey were the Discovery Channel, the Weather Channel, the Learning Channel, PBS, the History Channel, ESPN, AOL, Fox-TV, TVGuide Channel and NBC.

The study found that niche brands like the Learning Channel and the History Channel ranked higher with consumers, possibly because they have a much more focused message, Myers said. "In an overcrowded electronic media marketplace, brand equity is a new form of currency," he said. "With fragmentation of the media market, those brands with positive equity will be the ones that advertisers, distributors and investors will most value."

Consumers certainly value online brands. AOL beat out CNN in terms of relevancy and value, and was more frequently viewed than ESPN or Fox.