If I had been blogging back when AOL and Time Warner merged, I would have written one hell of a post. I could have told you why AOL’s “filtered Internet” business was a dopey match for one of the worlds great media companies. Time Warner was so far out of AOLs league – the combined company always made you think of a couple where the wife was so much better looking than the husband. How had AOL been so able to “punch above his weight?” Sadly, I believe the only answer was “Cash.”
In that marriage, I think Time Warner was also looking for distribution and believed that AOL was the answer. Meanwhile, the scads of smart Internet teams within Time Warner were probably screaming in disbelief. While there may have been good parts to the arrangement, AOL ended up hurting Time Warner in terms of execution, branding, and finances, as AOL’s mighty consumer dial-up stream began an accelerated demise right around the time the merger completed.
But the AOL Huffington Post deal is different. AOL is different, and has been purchasing small content brands like TechCrunch and 5Min Media that have loyal followings. They’ve purchased niche technology players such as Surphace, who power the “related content” box that follows some posts on this blog. They are bit by bit embracing the real Internet and it has been a steady smart strategy.
Huffington Post has bootstrapped itself with $1M investment and Arrianna Huffington, a hard-working, Oxford educated leader with unassailable intellectual chops. They have become a new kind of media company that fully embraces the real web in all its messy, complicated uses of new and emerging technologies and storytelling techniques. HuffPost makes money, breaks stories, makes us laugh and represents a moderately liberal point of view that is clearly popular and well received across the globe. And in the media world of today, a reasonable, well constructed point of view is unfortunately a rare creature. At the same time, in our time-crunched life, we yearn for a trusted source to help us formulate our own point of view — and that’s why Huffington Post has been a success, now worth $300 large.
In other words, the AOL of today purchased the right partner for today. I don’t know if there was a better partner for them than Time Warner a decade ago. I wonder where they would have been if they hadn’t made that deal at all?