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Armstrong @ AOL Analyst Day: Critics Of HuffPo Deal Just Don’t Understand

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A month after AOL (NYSE: AOL) posted its first growth in display revenue after a more than three-year drought, the company is hosting an “analyst day” in New York’s fashionable Soho district to further explain its strategy to Wall St. and the press. AOL CEO Tim Armstrong took the stage a little after 8am alongside a giant rectangular screen that emphasized the “big messages” of the day, such as “Disruptive” and “AOL is content.” Armstrong said he hopes the takeaway will be that AOL is no longer seen as a company with a low valuation, but one that could significantly remake itself from a dial-up service, to media company that is making significant strides in local, mobile and advertising.

Armstrong also reviewed some of the things he feels is helping to turn AOL around, streamlining the homepage, including reducing the number of staffers (it still has 6,000 employees, though) and jettisoning unprofitable businesses like Bebo (though he didn’t identify it by name).

He also turned to the acquisitions, mentioning one in particular. “The Huffington Post acquisition was one of the smartest deals we made, and it’s gotten a lot of attention, a lot of press,” Armstrong said. “If you have negative opinions on that acquisition, you don’t understand it.”

AOL has a full day planned with announcements across its content, advertising and local efforts.

One of the main things AOL will be touting today is its range of ad holdings. About three weeks ago, the company re-integrated its ad tech operations closely together under the Group, which houses, ADTECH, Pictela, Goviral, 5min Media, StudioNow, Seed and AOL Answers under one entity. The group is an update of Platform-A, which, among the brands that are still left, included only and ADTECH, purchases which preceded Armstrong. Platform-A was dissolved after Armstrong became CEO two years ago.

The Advertising Group is headed by Ned Brody, president of AOL’s B2B businesses. “Far less than 10 percent of the companies on our publisher list use just one ad product,” Brody told me in an interview several days ago. “We want to make it easy and that’s the reasoning behind the formation of the group.”

Making HuffPo’s case: Arianna Huffington took the stage after Armstrong with a flurry of data designed to show that this is not a mismatch critics have sought to paint it as. Picking up from Armstrong’s description of AOL’s content approach as based on curation and collaboration, Arianna noted the importance of “social news” as a distribution model that has value to readers and advertisers. Suggesting the level of engagement — the big metric for brand advertisers these days — Arianna noted that HuffPo will surpass 100 million comments in 2011 and claimed that HuffPo’s traffic was growing 50 percent year-over-year.

Taking on CNN: Paul Berry, the CTO of the AOL Huffington Post Group and creator of the HuffPo platform, offered an overview of that site’s current goals. With the HuffPo brand on top of it all, Berry outlined plans to expand its international presence following the launch of HuffPo Canada. “We’re going after the entire English-speaking world and will be moving into Latin America and beyond in the fall and winter,” Berry said. Interestingly, Brod mentioned AOL taking on CNN — the company’s erstwhile sibling since AOL split from Time Warner (NYSE: TWX), CNN’s parent — in terms of the breadth and reach of its news coverage.

As Berry exited the stage, Arianna said that HuffPo would launch in 12 more countries this year, with England and France up next — she’s headed to Paris after today’s conference — with Germany soon to follow.

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