Verizon's AOL Acquisition for Ads and Content Makes Sense: Analysts
"With Google entering the carrier space as a [mobile virtual network operator] and T-Mobile getting ever more aggressive in their moves to take [market] share, Verizon is looking for an edge and thinks content is that edge," said Enderle. But to make it all work, "they need a critical mass of content and AOL alone won't get them there, suggesting other acquisitions in the future or that this will fail." At the same time, if Verizon uses the AOL content providers to heavily promote Verizon, "these publications run the risk of becoming annoying, or worse, untrusted and will lose whatever value they started with," said Enderle. "I think this showcases that Verizon is scared to death of what Google and T-Mobile are doing but really have no good idea what to do about it so they are rolling the dice and hoping content can change the battlefield." AOL Fits Verizon's Over-the-Top Content Streaming Future John Stratton, president of operations for Verizon Communications Inc., spoke at a Jefferies global investment banking conference in Miami on May 12, shortly after the deal was announced and said that the merger with AOL "is a very beautiful complement to the foundation that we've been building for several years in digital media services," according to a transcript of the event.For AOL, which merged in 2001 with cable company Time Warner, the latest Verizon acquisition proposal has similar risks to the earlier merger, which was slated at the time to reinvigorate both AOL and Time Warner, but left both sides wanting, said Enderle. "The Time Warner merger comes to mind here in that it failed because the cultures of the two entities were just too different," he said. "Verizon is more like Time Warner than it is like AOL, suggesting that problem will recur." The Verizon AOL deal, which had been rumored earlier this year, will bring together the largest U.S. mobile carrier and the AOL video and print content network, including the AOL Huffington Post Media Group. "Verizon's vision is to provide customers with a premium digital experience based on a global multi-screen network platform," Lowell McAdam, Verizon's chairman and CEO, said in a May 12 statement. "This acquisition supports our strategy to provide a cross-screen connection for consumers, creators and advertisers to deliver that premium customer experience." The deal allows Verizon to buy AOL for $50 per share, with AOL becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of Verizon when it is completed, the companies said. The transaction, which is expected to close this summer, is subject to customary regulatory approvals and closing conditions. AOL began originally in 1985 as an online communications service called Q-Link, when the company was originally known as Quantum Computer Services. Quantum launched its first instant messaging service in 1989 and introduced the "You've got mail!" announcement that became a core identity of the company, which was renamed AOL, or America Online, in 1991. Large media acquisitions like this one are increasingly common today as companies seek more ways of attracting new customers with increased content that users find valuable. Competitors, including Facebook, are also on the move constantly to find new sources of content that can help them stay one step ahead of competing content and advertising networks. In March, a report surfaced saying that The New York Times, BuzzFeed and National Geographic, among others, are planning to launch a test program to host their content on Facebook, allowing users to read the latest news and feature articles without leaving the social network. Such moves help content sites such as Facebook remain "sticky" and important for users. Web portals, including AOL, Yahoo, Google and others, have been following similar strategies to remain relevant in a fast-changing online and mobile-centric world so they can grow and sustain their audiences.
One area where the merger will show promise is in Verizon's transition to over-the-top delivery of curated video services to users over existing channels, said Stratton. "For us, the principal interest was around the ad tech platform that [AOL chairman and CEO] Tim Armstrong and his team has done a really terrific job building. We really like the technology a lot and we think of it as a key enabler for us as we begin to generate revenue and value above the network layer. So we've talked a lot about our over-the-top video ambitions and this is for us a very important cornerstone enabler as part of that broader strategy," he said.