What do you think it is?
I'm a huge fan of Business Insider. I can't think of any other media organizations that writes headlines as good as they do (Business Insider, if you're reading this, pay your copywriters handsomely... they're doing everything right). My daily email newsletter from them is always chock full of linkbaity headlines that get me clicking and clicking. This one, from yesterday, was one of them: And The Most Amazing Internet Stock In The Past Year Is... So, who do you think it was? LinkedIn? Apple? eBay? Priceline? Nope... it was AOL.
Not really. I didn't call it. I didn't invest in AOL. And, if you click over to the Business Insider article, you can see the nice organic jumps and strides AOL made this year. That being said, I've been a massive fan of AOL since Tim Armstrong took over as CEO and Chairman in 2009. I'm not saying this because I'm a contributor to The Huffington Post (which AOL bought in 2011 for over $300 million) or because I have any kind of personal relationship with Tim Armstrong (I don't). I'm saying this because I believe that Armstrong, Arianna Huffington and everyone else at AOL is building an interesting canopy of online properties that are diverse enough to give them a unique position in the new media landscape.
Breaking the rules.
I don't think that AOL is necessarily breaking any new rules. I think they are, fundamentally, applying a very traditional media strategy to the Internet. They are buying and building properties, creating compelling editorial, building audiences and selling advertising on top of it all. There are sprinkles of newer thinking (like when The Huffington Post launched their GPS For The Soul app) and I'm hopeful that they can leverage everything they have with The Huffington Post coupled with their acquisition of Patch to crack the code on local (and hyper-local) content. There will be challenges in monetizing their current strategy as the world becomes increasingly more smartphone and tablet enabled. Advertising on these devices is still nascent and the formula doesn't seem to be as effective as it is when compared to Internet advertising. So, this will be no cake walk, but - to date - I've been a big fan.
It's what other media properties wished they had done.
You have to figure that The New York Times would love to have been the ones to have these types of properties that AOL now has in their portfolio. And let's not kid ourselves, it's not just The New York Times. Look at any kind of traditional publisher or broadcaster from newspaper, magazine, television and radio (there was a reason that Time Warner merged under the name AOL Time Warner in 2000 - even though that deal went south for a plethora of reasons). AOL now covers a lot of digital space when it comes to content. They've come a long way from the days of inundating your mailbox with CD Roms.
It says something.
It says something about how we see the Internet. I'm sure if you surveyed some of the smartest people in Internet land, few of them would have guessed that AOL had performed this well. We keep our preconceived notions with us. We think that businesses (especially, big businesses) can't change. AOL isn't perfect (I'm quite certain the comments below will be laced with commentary about AOL and their mishaps). I'm sure AOL is no golden child. AOL still has a ways to go until they have a war-chest of cash like Apple. The point is that it's quickly becoming an interesting company (again) - especially in a world where we hold quality content in such high regard.
It's one to watch...whether you own the stock or not.