The company that brought dial-up Internet to millions of people is dead. In its place is a massive media empire that refuses to be ignored.
With its blockbuster acquisition of Huffington Post, AOL has catapulted itself back into relevancy. It has sent a clear signal to the rest of the world that it is a media company and that it is in this game to win.
AOL has been on a content acquisition spree recently, not only acquiring the technology blog network TechCrunch, but also snagging up Thing Labs, Brizzly and most recently About.me in the last few months.
AOL has been moving in this direction for years, but it was easy to write it off as the final gasps of a dying company that had lost its relevancy.
I’ve always disagreed with that assertion, though. Even in 2009, I argued that AOL’s decision to become a content company was the right one if it wanted to become relevant again.
Here’s what I said back then:
“AOL and MySpace have the right idea with their shift in strategy and focus. Instead of trying to attract new audiences with better technology (a losing proposition), bring them in by churning out content. Online content creation is in demand (more so with the rise of article sharing on social media channels), and each company has preexisting audiences that are not only consuming it, but helping share it to others.
MySpace and AOL are no longer technology companies; they are content companies. When they realized that they couldn’t win in technology, they switched. In my estimation, they are making the right moves to ensure that both companies don’t simply disappear or become the next BusinessWeek.”
Until today, AOL has been a disorganized collection of media entities that weren’t strong enough on their own to truly transform AOL into a media powerhouse. People weren’t quite sure whether AOL was a technology company, a media company, or a little bit of both.
The Huffington Post changes all that. AOL CEO Tim Armstrong made his company’s goals clear in the company’s announcement. “The acquisition of The Huffington Post will create a next-generation American media company with global reach that combines content, community, and social experiences for consumers,” he stated in the press release.
While AOL has made plenty of stupid moves (merging with Time Warner and acquiring Bebo for $850 million top the list), acquiring Huffington Post for $315 million isn’t one of them. The Huffington Post is a growing entity with huge influence and reach, and combined with the AOL homepage, it will only become larger.
Still, Huffington will be tasked with making the whole operation profitable and sustainable, something she only recently achieved with The Huffington Post. She will have to successfully integrate dozens of independent media entities into one profitable organization, a daunting task by any standard.
The Huffington Post and Arianna Huffington will become the anchors of the AOL’s new media strategy. With Arianna Huffington running the show, AOL will gain the content focus and media legitimacy it desperately needs to restart growth and become relevant again.