Where did the idea reported by ex-TechCruncher Sarah Lacey at her PandoDaily, that the tech properties were for sale for $70-to-$100 million come from? Armstrong tells paidContent in a post-earnings interview that they were out in the marketplace talking to possible investors about partnerships for scaling the tech properties.
“We don’t have any interest in selling TechCrunch or Engadget,” he said firmly. “Our number one goal basically has been to scale them up. At this point, it’s likely we’ll just end up investing ourselves.”
(In case you were wondering, TC founder Michael Arrington told Lacey “I am not in the least bit interested” in buying back the site.)
The sites, which are now run separately from the Huffington Post Media Group, already have some international presence. What does Armstrong mean by scale? Armstrong says what he wants to do is move them from brands to businesses. That means more coverage areas, more video, more international, more events. TC has been staffing up and moving to retain the staff that stuck around after a Michael Arrington-Arianna Huffington showdown last year.
Huffington, who continues to head the Huffington Post Media Group, has nothing to do with the tech properties now. Instead, they are being run by former Time Inc. exec Ned Desmond, reporting to Jay Kirsch, SVP and GM, AOL Marketplace. He in turn reports to CFO Artie Minson.
What about Huffington Post?
Treating the tech media properties separately is part of showing that AOL is a diversified media company overall. Post-HuffPo merger, it started to look like the plan was to put all content under that umbrella, even when it Armstrong and others stressed keeping the identity of TechCrunch and other established sites. That sense increased as HuffPo shut down or subsumed AOL properties while it expanded internationally and into new verticals. Arianna’s role in the TechCrunch ruckus last year added to it.
Armstrong calls that other people’s “assumptions.” The bigger assumption, though, may have been that Arianna could head all of content and build other brands while her main loyalty lay with HuffPo and her chief goal is growing that property.
“The Huffington Post is always going to stand out as being its own global incredible brand. The portfolio’s very strong,” Armstrong said, adding, “We changed a whole bunch of the AOL brands into the Huffington Post and we’re going to continue to scale.”
As for Arianna, “I think overall we’re going to have big brands with lots of big voices.”
Putting fires out
Usually when we talk about something being on fire, it’s a positive connotation. Armstrong takes it in a different direction. When I asked him how today’s AOL story differed from the last couple of years, he replied: “Two years ago the company was on fire. Last year, we had containted the fire down to four or five. Now it’s down to display. …
“We’re seeing the evolution of the company into major brand categories. We’re more efficient, we’re better managed, we have lower costs.”
Like Yahoo, Armstrong has a vocal dissident shareholder who wants change. (There was a little nervous laughter when I suggested maybe he was lucky to get Starboard instead of Dan Loeb.)
“The biggest thing we coud do as a company right now, which is going to sound a little strange, is to closely align with shareholders and follow thorugh on what we said we were going to do.”