Verizon buying AOL for $4.4 billion is.... Well, it's the biggest thing to happen since America Online acquired Time Warner for $182 billion in stock and debt 15 years ago! Sure, I know these ancient history lessons are only so instructive, but this one is rich with irony. In 2000, Time Warner was the company with the content and America Online (which is what AOL was still commonly called then) had the digital distribution. At the time, CNN Money (no impartial observer) breathlessly said that the "largest deal in history" combined "...the nation's top internet service provider with the world's top media conglomerate." Now AOL is the company with the content, and Verizon is the acquiring party with the distribution. Distribution always seems to win, doesn't it?
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While $4.4 billion may not seem as cool as $182 billion, it appears the money may actually be real this time. And the deal validates a point that can no longer be disputed: Mobile IS the game now. And the shift to mobile-first thinking will be as jarring and disorienting to first generation digital execs as the shift to digital thinking was for magazine publishers and broadcasters.
The initial strategy at times like this is always to re-purpose what you already know how to do for the medium you don't yet understand. The first TV shows were radio shows in front of a camera. The first MTV videos were claustrophobic, single set performances by rock stars. The first websites were magazine pages with hyperlinks. And our first pass at mobile has been to throw banners and interstitials and short form videos at the smaller screen. And soon we'll look back at this era like a long-forgotten photo from our youth. ("I can't believe I ever thought THAT haircut was cool!")
So Verizon's here. They don't think like we do. But they get the needs of a mobile consumer better than we do. AT&T's here as well. Remember last year when they bought DirecTV? Keep that little deal in mind alongside this one. The world of media and advertising lives inside a snow globe and it's just starting to get a good shake. Anyone who thinks the Verizon-AOL deal was just about Verizon and AOL needs to think again. It's about all of us and the future we must confront sooner than we know.
Can you hear me now?
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