MEDIA Profile: Bringing guests live to your PC - Tom Laidlaw, senior producer, AOL Live

Question one on our media quiz this week is as follows: which interviewer has recently conducted in-depth conversations with Max Clifford, Michael Jackson, Tim Waterstone, William Hague, Linford Christie and Sean Hughes?

Question one on our media quiz this week is as follows: which

interviewer has recently conducted in-depth conversations with Max

Clifford, Michael Jackson, Tim Waterstone, William Hague, Linford

Christie and Sean Hughes?



Well, it’s a trick question really. There wasn’t one interviewer. There

were thousands. It was the subscriber base of America Online.



Anyone with internet access will probably be aware of AOL. It’s the

largest internet provider in the world with 560,000 UK members and 14

million worldwide. There are 14 channels in the UK version, including

news, sport and travel and one of these is AOL Live, an entertainment

channel. The boss of AOL Live is senior producer Tom Laidlaw and he’s

just recruited Mark Lamarr to front parts of the channel for him.

’Mark’s role will be to act as a host for our live interviews,’ Laidlaw

explains. ’He’ll introduce the guests in his own inimitable style,

co-ordinate questions and give the interviews a sense of personality

that can be lacking when the interviewer is actually as many as 10,000

people,’ he explains.



For those who’ve never used AOL Live, a word of explanation would be

appropriate here. Interviews on AOL Live take place in an on-screen

window, much like the boxes in Windows 95. If you’re on-line, you can

see everything the guest types. You can also submit questions to be put

to the guest and chat with other users about what’s going on in the main

interview.



Laidlaw admits that it’s sometimes a struggle getting on the list of

selected media outlets when talking to the more luddite elements of the

PR industry, but then beating back the barriers of new media knowledge

is something he’s been keen to do since he started as a researcher at

the television and new media production house Illuminations in 1993.

With a background in sound engineering, he’d gone to Illuminations with

an idea for a CD-ROM. A year later, he was starting his own on-line

recruitment service called Worknet.



He joined AOL in 1995 where, as senior producer, he’s been planning and

developing all the entertainment content on AOL including their

occasional on-line radio broadcasts and special events like Valentine’s

Day, Christmas and the upcoming millennium coverage. ’We’re getting a

better response from the PR industry as time passes,’ Laidlaw says. ’It

helps that all the interviews are advertised across all relevant

channels - for example the finance and news channels in the case of a

business interviewee - at least two weeks in advance and we archive them

so that users can read the interviews any time they like if they missed

them first time round. I think people are taking us seriously now.’



Laidlaw hopes that more PROs will take AOL seriously enough to build a

virtuous circle. The bigger the names who appear, the more people will

tune in. The more people who tune in, the more word spreads. The more

word spreads, the bigger the subscriber base. The bigger the audience,

the bigger the names. With the passion of an evangelist, Laidlaw is on

this mission. He will be knocking on your door soon.



HIGHLIGHTS

1994

Business manager, Netlink

1995

Producer, AOL

1998

Senior producer, AOL Live



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