Is Verizon Buying AOL That Bad?

Did you hear? Verizon is buying AOL for $4.4 billion. The internet hates this deal because the internet hates everything, but in reality this may not be the worst thing in the world.

Perhaps I’m biased though — I once worked for AOL (got laid off, but it’s all good!), and have done some project work for Verizon, too. But hear me out for a second.

Like anyone, I have issues with big media conglomerates and pine for the halcyon days of the internet when the little guys could stand up to the big guys and win.

But those days are over and its a virtual arms race now for the best content and the best way to deliver that content and the best way to make money on that content. In a sense, maybe that’s what this deal is about.

Or, as the Verge points out, it could be more about AOL’s ad technology, which the company has been quietly investing in — via buying and developing companies — for some time now.

It’s really a combination of those things that make AOL attractive.

For what it’s worth, AOL was far out ahead of the programmatic ad-buying trend, trying to get clients to buy into that technology as far back as two years ago. Now, it’s a very trendy thing.

AOL was also really out ahead of things in video as well, developing its AOL On network, via its own content and content from syndicated partners, to compete with the giant that is YouTube. Again, that was long before other companies realized that there was a need for a viable YouTube alternative.

As far as its original programming goes, Huffington Post Live has been in business for a few years, and while it may not be the first chat show on your radar, it’s decent enough. One could reasonably check it out at any time and find something nominally interesting to watch on it.

AOL has invested millions in original programming concepts, too. They’ve done shows with highbrow stars like Sarah Jessica Parker, Steve Buscemi and others. This stuff exists — I’m just not sure anyone with a real opinion has ever opened their mouth about it.

The bottom line is this: AOL is a deep-pocketed company with massive scale. In the wake of the spinoff from Time-Warner in 2009 and decades removed from getting dial-up CDs in the mail, I think people fail to realize just how incredibly large AOL’s footprint still is. AOL is a giant.

Verizon is a giant, too. In its own way. And the pairing of these companies is downright frightening on one level, but on another, it’s actually a good thing.

I don’t know all the particulars of how it will play out (Kara Swisher says Huff Po is getting spun off) or even what it all means, but at the very surface level it suggests that there is an interest, demand and need for the types of things that AOL does — make content and use their ad technology to sell ads against content. The internet in a nutshell.

And that’s a bright spot for this business. Even for the little guys. A rising tide lifts all boats.

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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