Verizon's Media Failure Is Complete As Company Eyes AOL/Yahoo Sale
from the bumblin'-and-stumblin' dept
Back in 2014, Verizon decided it wanted to get into the media business. So it launched a website dubbed “Sugarstring.” It didn’t go very well. The website immediately gained attention for the fact that Verizon informed new journalist hires that they couldn’t write about surveillance or net neutrality, two subjects Verizon is intimately involved in. The backlash was immediate, employees realized it was a shitshow and headed for the exits, and the whole thing was quickly shut down. But it was a good indication of what was to come.
Years later, Verizon moved on to an equally ill-fated effort, the acquisitions of both AOL (bought for $4.4 billion in 2015) and Yahoo (bought for $4.48 billion in 2017). Apparently, the executive brain trust at Verizon thought it would be a great idea to buy two sharply declining 90’s media brands and mush them together, hoping this would allow them to magically elbow in on the Google ad revenues they’d coveted for so long. Of course that didn’t go particularly well either.
There was the huge Yahoo hack, a massive privacy scandal where Verizon was busted modifying wireless data packets to track them around the internet without telling them (whoops!), and then of course the face plant by Go90, Verizon’s attempt to rebrand itself as a sexy, Millennial-friendly streaming video service. Despite making a great stink about rebranding its AOL/Yahoo media and ad empire “Oath,” by late 2018 Verizon was forced to acknowledge the whole thing was effectively worthless.
In 2019, Verizon wound up selling Tumblr to WordPress owner Automattic at a massive loss after a rocky ownership stretch. Last year it offloaded the Huffington Post. And this week, somebody leaked word to the press that Verizon was finally considering selling the whole mess, now creatively dubbed “Verizon Media Group”:
“Verizon Communications Inc. is considering selling its media division, according to people familiar with the matter, as the telecommunications giant seeks to unload once high-flying dot-com brands such as Yahoo! and AOL. The company is talking to Apollo Global Management Inc. about a deal, they said. It couldn?t immediately be learned how a deal would be structured or if other suitors may emerge.
While whoever leaked word of the sale suggests the deal could come in around $5 billion, given the history of these assets I’d say it’s probably a good bet the final sale figure could be dramatically less. Even calling Yahoo and AOL “once high-flying dot-com brands” seems generous in the TikTok, Facebook era. Verizon will now slink back to its core competences: running and building networks, and lobbying the federal government to prevent broadband competition.
As we’ve long noted, companies like AT&T and Verizon have spent the better part of a generation as government-pampered, natural monopolies. As such, creativity, competition, innovation, and adaptation are alien constructs. They’re just not built for the kind of competition you see in markets like adtech or short-form online video. And when they do try to compete, that usually involves throwing money at often mindless acquisitions (see AT&T’s $200 billion TV sector face plant). But despite billions of dollars, an ocean of regulatory favors, and endless hype, the end result has been a massive parade of stumbles.