AOL + HuffPo: Quick Trip To The 'Future of Content'?
As I sometimes do, upon getting up in the middle of the night to chat with my dog Bruce, last night I peeked at my buzzing iPhone on the kitchen counter. (No, I don't keep it on the nightstand. I prefer sleep when it's time to sleep.)
When I make this jaunt to the kitchen, I never know what kind of alert might await me. Well, this time it was all HuffPo. I must say I was somewhat jolted to sleeplessness. AOL has acquired Huffington Post for $315 million. Having returned a more interested and watchful eye on AOL ever since Armstrong hung his shingle there, I was not surprised by his widely reported comment (see AllThingsD ) that this deal -- one that looks more like a merger, with Arianna staying on board as president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group -- is " the future of the content space." But it puts magnificent credence in the HuffPo approach. Much will be corralled under her watch.
At a glance, it's been hard to get one's head around the scope of resources, inventory and assets that Armstrong must somewhat reconstitute in order to become the so-called future of the content space. The picture he is reforming is vast and all over the place right now.
One of his more publicized initiatives, you will recall, is the push around Demand/ROI and the establishment of a demand- led content and advertising entity. This vision for demand media is nothing if not gigantic. It's been his team's plan to hire legions of "journalists" -- sourcing from both new and legacy media -- in an effort to transform the AOL of yesteryear that's become a mighty and amorphous mess.
With all the deal-making, the demand-media push, and now the HuffPo deal, the objective has clearly been to effectively transform AOL from its station as Internet service provider to an utterly current content and advertising company poised to own the future. By all appearances, Armstrong wants AOL to be the guy that emerges on the wings of a strong brand to own the premium content space. In this context, "owning" is some combination of mastering both the consumer content need and the monetization potential.
Like many folks, I've been impressed from a business vantage point with the revenue story over at Huffington Post and its transformation over the past few years -- but somewhat startled and disheartened from a consumer perspective. When it launched, I respected the original approach to news and content -- presented certainly in a signature style, but with grace. I found the journalism and content contribution model interesting. But, over time, as I've been on the receiving end of TMZ-esque updates (for which I'd rather just go to TMZ), juvenile polls and Bob Saget's thoughts on Thanksgiving , and reams and reams of similar content -- the words, "Oh, come on!" come to mind. I get it -- but must we do it this way?
Admittedly, as the daughter of a print newsman; a bit of a media brat growing up in the '60s; with my time and exposure in the industry and my own content preferences -- my take on these kinds of issues is complicated. I am torn and biased and strident. So, just as I have felt reading about Armstrong's decision-making at AOL, I feel the same way overall about this deal. I would like to see them deliver on it and get it right. But, I hope they will take the time and do all the listening required to make what is not going to be a neat transformation, A-OK. Let's leave Bob Saget out of it.