What Verizon's Cooking May Need A Pinch of AOL

We remember AOL for that disastrous AOL-Time Warner merger that, oddly, defined the beginning of the end of the first tech bubble. But news this morning that Verizon is acquiring AOL for $4.4 billion may turn out to be a deal in which AOL has a more positive role.

This is Verizon acquiring a programming and advertising partner that it will want as its grows its OTT and LTE wireless video businesses. Make no mistake about it, Verizon is going to be a major content producer and advertising vehicle in the next few years -- it’s launching its own Web video service sometime this summer.

While everybody and their uncle has developed a mobile first strategy, Verizon might have the best one. It IS mobile to start with, and its programming and advertising possibilities seem kind of wide open. It has 103 million customers, 34% of the market, about equal to the number AT&T has.

And it has dreams. Rumors of some AOL/Verizon merger were around earlier, and apparently real. They’ve partnered in some areas already, but the new link-up allow for a digital platform that should be  potent worldwide.  After the deal closes (expected this summer), CEO Tim Armstrong remains at AOL, though, as rumors have already started to swirl, what else remains a part of AOL is (maybe) a different story.

If nothing else (and this IS pretty much nothing), Verizon inherits AOL’s still-not-dead subscription dial-up business, which TechCrunch reports, brought in $182.6 million last quarter and is still AOL’s biggest source of income. Amazingly, 2.1 million monthly subscribers still hear “You’ve got mail!” AOL reported just last week. Presumably, many of these are deep in the woods, literally and figuratively.

But Verizon and AOL should be able to make some noise. Omnigon, the tech firm that helps sports leagues and networks plot their digital futures, is doing some groundbreaking work with Verizon. On the company’s blog, Omingon’s chief commercial officer David Nugent noted Verizon’s efforts with IndyCar where Verizon, if all goes as planned, will be able to let its users gather loads of real-time information from each of the race cars, and a 3-D rendering of what’s going on at the track.

As interesting, Nugent wrote, is that the race “will be the first true deployment of the latest Verizon LT multicast, essentially turning the concept of cell towers into broadcast towers so it isn’t every single person individually requesting all this data one at a time. Instead, the data will be broadcast.”

Broaden that idea out and someday, you’ve got a 102 million customers connected to a potential content network that is not at all beholden to a cable company’s broadband connection. That is the big opportunity and need for AOL and its advertising divisions like, That end of AOL is less showy that Huffington Post and some of AOL’s generally well-done video offerings, but it might be that business side Verizon most wants to exploit. This will be interesting to watch.

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