The Verizon-AOL deal: Is this ‘the year everything happens’?

May 13, 2015
Category: Uncategorized
AOL Chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong, center, applauds during opening bell ceremonies of the New York Stock Exchange in this file photo. Verizon on Tuesday, May 12, 2015 announced it is buying AOL for about $4.4 billion, advancing the telecom's push in both mobile and advertising fields. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

AOL Chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong, center, applauds during opening bell ceremonies of the New York Stock Exchange in this file photo. Verizon on Tuesday, May 12, 2015 announced it is buying AOL for about $4.4 billion, advancing the telecom’s push in both mobile and advertising fields. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

A few days before Verizon agreed to buy AOL for $4.4 billion, AOL boss Tim Armstrong was opining about the future to a packed if sterile convention ballroom in Chicago.

“There will be a set of companies that form the cable landscape,” he told the annual cable TV convention, “and a number of companies that do internet and TV. And some companies will be left behind. Internet companies without proper scale. And traditional companies who don’t get the point.”

“This is absolutely a time period like the beginning of the web,” he said during an on-stage interview with journalist-entrepreneur Kara Swisher. “I think there will be a year when everything happens.”

The Verizon deal, or one like it for AOL, now seems so obvious, as I recall sitting in the ballroom.

Armstrong was attired in the tie-less chic of today’s hip corporate leaders, itself a uniform, and spoke of taking over a company that “was in peril and had to be turned around.” He spoke of the stunning growth of mobile, with giant numbers of people (on the order of 4 billion) worldwide turning to movie video from television by the year 2020.

He referred to “kids using their phones, they are operating a machine. They are not talking.”

I quickly thought of my two boys who are fixated on mobile phones and video, and can go long stretches with their chums without talking (other than proclaiming, “Dude, stop it!”). And I then listened as he spoke of the many hundreds of video-based companies who can’t all survive, likening the whole state of play to the start of the automobile age when there were lots of small companies that were launched.

So Armstrong spoke about a great transition that’s imminent, including “a massive fight for content.” There will be big winners, who saw the virtue of scale, and big losers.

“Any company that doesn’t see change as a weapon…if not willing to change will be blown over,” Armstrong said to the cable folks.

On Monday, he was declaring, ‚ÄúThis gives us a real seat at the table for the future of media and technology.”

Of course, that’s what his predecessors at AOL said about their disastrous 2000 purchase of Time Warner for a then-staggering $165 billion deal. Nine years later, a crippled AOL was spun off.

Confidence, and fear, about the future is rarely in short supply in the executive suites of corporate America.