You might recall that last October, Verizon tried its hand at getting into the media business with the launch of a tech blog by the name of Sugarstring. The bizarre foray into media didn't last long; editors quickly complained that Verizon was prohibiting them
from talking about huge tech issues Verizon played a starring role in, ranging from net neutrality to domestic surveillance. After the media ridiculed the hell out of Verizon's ham-fisted disregard of editorial firewalls (or just common sense), the website was quietly shuttered
, with the telco saying it was just a "pilot project" it was moving on from.
So what is Verizon's media plan 2.0 going to be? Apparently, it's a little something called AOL. Verizon this morning announced that the company would be buying AOL for around $4.4 billion
, stating the acquisition would be supporting the telco's over the top video and Internet-of Things ambitions (read: they wanted AOL's ad empire):
"Verizon is a leader in mobile and OTT connected platforms, and the combination of Verizon and AOL creates a unique and scaled mobile and OTT media platform for creators, consumers and advertisers. The visions of Verizon and AOL are shared; the companies have existing successful partnerships, and we are excited to work with the team at Verizon to create the next generation of media through mobile and video."
Nobody on Earth flubbed the dial-up to broadband era transition quite as spectacularly as AOL did, so being acquired by a telecom operator ten years too late isn't without it's irony. Equally ironic is Verizon suddenly acquiring 2.2 million new dial-up subscribers at a time when it's desperately trying to back away from the fixed-line broadband business
(how many DSL lines would $4.4 billion upgrade?). But AOL's a very different company these days, and the acquisition makes sense as a mobile advertising play, even if it just feels weird
to see the two companies snuggle up in bed together.
Apparently, current AOL CEO Tim Armstrong will remain in command under the freshly-acquired AOL, which will operate as an independent Verizon subsidiary. There's no declaration of retained editorial independence anywhere, but that may not mean much. From a memo from Armstrong sent to all AOL employees this morning
"The leadership at AOL is staying and I am staying – enthusiastically, and we made that part of the deal. We have the opportunity to build a unique and globally scaled media technology company with the scale and resources we need to make that happen. Verizon and AOL are very large partners today – in content, in ads, and in the technology. We know their team well and they know our team well. The cultures share very similar values and are both working on very similar ways to do good while doing well."
Do those "values" and "doing good" include propping up Verizon's role as one of the most vocal and obnoxious opponents to net neutrality on the Internet? Stay tuned. There's some chatter that Verizon may want to spin off or sell off the content companies
, just using the remaining ad empire to fuel the telco's new wireless-focus Internet video subscription service expected to launch sometime later this year. If retained, you'd like to think Verizon will play it smart and not aggressively meddle in the daily dealings of websites like The Huffington Post, Engadget, or TechCrunch, but with the telco's generation-long history of aggressively bad ideas (most recently being a foray into undeletable super cookies
), you just never know.