AOL's schizophrenic media strategy continues with Huffington Post buy
These days, it's hard to tell what AOL is trying to accomplish with its acquisitions. From its purchase of Engadget and Weblogs, Inc. in 2005, to TechCrunch last September, each time the company appeared to be attempting to buy its way to the top of the digital media heap.
The acquisition of Huffington Post announced early Monday morning was no different. AOL paid $315 million for the site, and put its figurehead Arianna Huffington as the president of its media division, which now would include all the disparate blogs that the Reston, Va. Based company has amassed over the years.
Huffington Post -- known for its liberal slant and independent voice in news -- now essentially becomes the flagship news site of one of the more corporate and profit-driven media conglomerates in the world. To many, including myself, the deal makes little sense.
Liberals bemoaned the move. How could Huffington sell out a brand that they had come to trust for news from a perspective they could align themselves with? Some in the tech world wondered how this matched up with recent revelations of the "AOL Way?"
Gawker founder Nick Denton may have said it best. "I thought Arianna Huffington and Kenny Lerer were reinventing news, rather than simply flipping to a flailing conglomerate," he told The Daily Beast's Dan Lyons. Denton's lament boil down to a familiar phrase: money talks, and -- well, finish the rest.
See, CEO Tim Armstrong has a vision, and it's to follow the path of Demand Media -- churning out content and making sure it's optimized to hell so Googlers are coming to AOL sites rather than their competitors. With Huffington at the helm, it's likely that she'd be tasked with carrying out Armstrong's vision.
(One could argue acquisition of the Post is part and parcel of the AOL Way itself, just a more artificial way of getting to the company's lofty traffic and revenue goals.)
That would come as a huge surprise. While yes, the Huffington Post has in the past been criticized for a lack of original content -- preferring to scrape from other outlets -- it never has been anything like a content farm. Transitioning to a more corporate-driven media strategy, where pageviews and ad revenues are king is not going to be easy for Huffington.
She will also have to face dealing with a ragtag bunch, some of which don't have the best working relationship. TechCrunch founder and now AOL employee Michael Arrington cannot seem to keep his comments to himself, as evidenced by his spat with Engadget editor-in-chief Josh Topolsky last month. While Arrington no longer controls TechCrunch, it's hard to see him falling in line under Huffington, making her job of building the AOL that Armstrong wants even harder.
All in all, while AOL may have seen the acquisition of Arianna's self-built media empire as a way to buy its way to the top of digital media, in the end it's still AOL -- a company whose time has long since passed.