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America Online (AOL) moved to prop up its web ad operation yesterday with the purchase of online affiliate marketing network Buy.at.

AOL, which is owned by media giant Time Warner, said it had bought the network to help beef up ad sales and other transactions. Terms of the financial deal were kept secret.

The purchase, the latest in a series of AOL acquisitions over the past year, came just 24 hours ahead of Time Warner’s fourth quarter results announcement expected later today.

Newcastle-based Buy.at, an affiliate marketing network in which advertisers only pay online publishers when a visitor to its site makes a purchase or signs up to a free trial, will operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of AOL’s Platform-A organisation, Advertising.com, said AOL in a statement.

AOL, which slashed 2,000 jobs worldwide, or 20 per cent of its workforce in October last year, added that it hopes to rapidly expand Buy.at’s network in the UK, US and Europe.

Of course, it will also undoubtedly be working on strategies to compete with, or in fact distinguish itself from, the Microsoft-Yahoo! beast – that is if Redmond's gobsmacking offer to buy one of its biggest online rival gets the go-ahead. Otherwise internet old hand AOL could find itself even further out in the cold. ®

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