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After 15 years of covering tech, one dot-com bubble, and a whole mess of Google bus protests, it takes something quite big to knock me off my chair.
So, here I sit on the floor, trying to absorb the news that Verizon has acquired AOL for $4.4 billion. It’s definitely a sign that I’m getting too old for this, having lived through the Time Warner-AOL merger in 2000.
That deal was the epic bang that shook the world and was supposed to signal the triumph of the NEW ECONOMY! The Verizon deal, is well, not quite a whimper. But it certainly carries less sense of being a harbinger of some great change in the world.
Instead, the latest deal seems like a half-hearted exit for a company that never was quite able to get its mojo back after the train wreck deal with Time Warner and its subsequent spinoff. AOL isn’t entirely irrelevant these says. But it seems like primarily people talk about it in terms of whether it might merge someday with Yahoo to see if two wrongs can make a right.
So what does this all mean? Here are a few off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts:
1. This may finally be the thing that quiets the endless chatter of AOL merging with Yahoo. Marissa Mayer’s hecklers will have to find some other half-baked idea to insist she try.
2. Our digital brethren TechCrunch and Huffington Post are both going to be owned by Verizon. That seems … weird.
3. Based solely on the press release, it appears Verizon was attracted to AOL’s mobile and video prowess. Really? “AOL has once again become a digital trailblazer,” said Lowell McAdam, Verizon’s chairman and chief executive, in a statement. Trailblazer? Pretty sure it’s been 15 years since anyone said that about AOL.
4. $4.4 billion. AOL’s market cap was $3.34 billion after the market closed yesterday. In pre-market trading, the stock had jumped 18.1 percent, from $42.59 yesterday to $50.30. When AOL went public again back in 2010, the stock closed at $20.64 on the first day. So, investors overall will have to feel pretty good about this outcome. Of course, AOL was once worth $222 billion in December 1999. But let us not speak of those times.
5. Tim Armstrong. Though AOL never became a roaring success again, Armstrong did at least deliver it to this point and this exit. The press release says he will continue to run AOL operations. But you have to wonder how long he’ll stick around. Surely he must be itching to be a CEO — maybe this time of something he can help build rather than turn around.
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