I have seen tons of headlines since Sunday night, declaring, “AOL, You’ve Got Bloggers,” “AOL, You’ve Got Page Views” or “AOL, You’ve Got Huffington and Arrington.”
The turns of phrases on the old AOL slogan seem as dated as the dial up modem sound that I used to hear in the mid-1990s when I logged onto an AOL email account that, in the newsroom at the time, I shared with a half dozen other reporters.
But this is no longer your father’s AOL. The Internet services and media company announced this week that it has bought the Huffington Post for $315 million. The deal is getting a thumbs-up from media analysts and it adds to AOL’s stable of a growing news and blogging network, following its purchase last year of TechCrunch for a reported $40 million. (BTW, the sale of HuffPo is validation to Alan Patricof, not that he needed it, for his strategy of investing in media-related startups through his firm Greycroft Partners, which along with Softbank Capital and Oak Investment Partners, invested about $35 million in HuffPo).
However, with all the ranting going on online about AOL’s strategy, it’s important to note that AOL has been acquisitive lately with more than TechCrunch and HuffPo.
AOL bought eight companies last year, most notably TechCrunch, but also About.me, Pictela, Rally Up, StudioNow, Thing Labs, Unblab and 5Min Inc. A few of these are VC-backed and their purchase to AOL created quite the healthy return for the investors, as it did with HuffPo. StudioNow, which provides online video-creation services for businesses, raised about $5 million from Claritas Capital and was sold in a deal valued at $36.5 million. Thing Labs, which develops Web-based software for content creation, raised just $4 million from Polaris Venture Partners and SoftTech Venture Capital, and sold for an estimated $18 million.
Likewise, About.me, Pictela and 5Min each raised small amounts of capital before they were scooped up by AOL for undisclosed purchase prices.
So it was no wonder that soon after the Super Bowl party ended Sunday night and news leaked out that AOL bought HuffPo, there were tons of babbling online about which company AOL will buy next. Glam Media, Demand Media, Outside.in and TechMeme all got a vote or two. I saw a lot of speculation that VC-backed Flipboard, which turns your social media life into a magazine on your iPad, made the most sense, although there might be less expensive options.
There was an interesting Quora debate, though nothing truly insightful, that pointed at Mashable or Gawker Media as the next content plays for AOL since they each attract so many page views. I would love to see the young journos at those sites mix it up with Arrington and Huffington, but that seems like a stretch.
Much of the gossip has focused on content providers. Those commenting are overlooking the curation category—with companies like Curated.by, HiveFire, KeepStream and Storify as the next sector that AOL gets into.
I have an even wilder suggestion—AOL should buy Twitter. It’s not that crazy. Hear me out. Imagine the HuffPo/TC blogging network posting an item and blanketing your Twitter stream—at a competitive advantage—with the link the moment the story goes live.
Yes, it’s farfetched and doesn’t make sense, I know. Twitter is too overvalued for AOL, which late last year had a reported several hundred million dollars in the bank to make acquisitions. And I’m sure there are regulatory hurdles aplenty here. But everything is for sale and AOL is not averse to marrying out of its league.
It was less than three years ago that it bought Bebo for $850 million, which it sold last year for some chump change, and it also unloaded IM service ICQ for about $188 million. Over the last decade it has also bought other large properties it probably couldn’t afford or didn’t need to buy, such as Advertising.com, Gateway.net and MapQuest. Remember, this is the company that paid more than $4 billion to buy Netscape in 1998.
So, I say, go large or go home, AOL. Buy Twitter. If for no other reason, it would allow us to use the headline: “You’ve Got a Tweet!”
Alastair Goldfisher is Editor-in-Charge of Venture Capital Journal. The opinions expressed here are entirely his own. You can reach him on Twitter at @agoldfisher or via email.