Several installments of my “media deconsolidation” series have dealt with problems at AOL-Time Warner (see parts 8, 12 and 14). That’s because when this marriage was struck back in 2000, media critics where in full-blown Chicken Little mode over the deal. Critics claimed the AOL-Time Warner deal represented “Big Brother,” “the end of the independent press,” and a harbinger of a “new totalitarianism.”
What a joke. It’s just another sign how irrational people get about media ownership issues. Reality is rarely so exciting. In fact, as the latest news on the AOL-Time Warner front proves, reality bites for many traditional media operators. Like so many other companies who are struggling to adjust to our modern world of media abundance, user-generated content and digital everything, AOL-Time Warner is struggling to make “synergy” work.
Unfortunately, synergy isn’t working out so well for them. The company had lost a staggering $99 billion in market cap by January of 2003 and shortly thereafter Time Warner decided to dump AOL from their corporate name altogether. This summer, Time Warner President Jeff Bewkes went so far as to declare the death of synergy, famously calling it “bullshit.” And this week Jonathan Miller, chief executive of AOL, admitted to the U.K.’s Sunday Telegraph that the Time Warner board is indeed mulling over a break-up of the company. When asked by the Telegraph about the possibility of an AOL-Time Warner divorce, Miller said that “It’s possible, going forward. It’s not a discussion that Time Warner has a problem with understanding or engaging in. Until we were on this present course, it wasn’t even the right discussion. Now it becomes more interesting.”
It’s only a matter of time before it’s finalized. I wonder what all those media kooks will say then. I’m sure that they’ll find something to complain about.