While the media has been sharply focused on the drama at Yahoo and discussions of its possible sale, big changes have been unfolding for another first generation internet giant, AOL, particularly in video. Earlier this week, news broke of Roy Sekoff’s departure from AOL property The Huffington Post after 15 years. The news is a small piece of a bigger reorganization in video that trails up the food chain from the AOL-owned brands to their parent company.
Barely 6 months into AOL’s acquisition by Verizon and only a few weeks past the launch of the telcom giant’s over the top streaming service go90, the company has laid off a significant number of employees due to various acquisitions, announced in early December, and an impending change in video strategy.
Executives inside the company claim that the ongoing value of the AOL Originals and AOL On as a consumer-facing brand as is highly suspect. So now AOL will shed AOL Originals and likely AOL On, and is already rolling out a new plan for AOL brands, including Huffington Post, Makers and TechCrunch. A centralized team within AOL will run production and is likely to oversee go90, where Verizon is prepared to make even bigger bets.
BYE BYE “AOL ORIGINALS” — A CHANGING CONTENT STRATEGY
During the four-year reign (2010–2014) of former president of video Ran Harnevo, AOL invested heavily in original content under the AOL Originals and AOL On banners. (Refresh on their 2013, 2014 and 2015 Newfronts announcements). Now, AOL is in the process of shifting all properties produced for AOL Originals or AOL On to AOL brands such as Huffington Post, Engadget or TechCrunch, with a centralized production team housed within AOL. One example is AOL’s “Rise,” a daily news show that has been re-jigged as a Huffington Post property. Executives looking to sell shows to AOL have been told to re-pitch their projects so they fit the various AOL brands.
AOL Originals will effectively fade away, while the fate of AOL On is still being evaluated, according to AOL spokesperson Caroline Campbell.
“This is not a pulling away from the parent brand,” Campbell told VideoInk. “We are empowering the brands who know who their own audience is, to drive their own video strategy. Video production and operations can then sit in the center.”
AOL’s strength has always been its scale as a tech company and the ad stack that has been built over the years. This includes a robust programmatic business that helped attract telecom giant Verizon, which acquired the company in May for $4.4 billion (a figure that is none too impressive when one considers that, back in 2000, AOL was rich enough to buy Time Warner for $165 billion). Although programmatic is said to still generate one billion dollars annually for AOL, according to sources within AOL, the media company is on track to significantly underperform in its first 6 months as part of the Verizon family.
But as Verizon and AOL are both still aiming go big in video, and consequently own the hearts, minds, hands and spends of the future generations via FIOS, desktop and mobile devices, AOL becomes less of a priority solely as a content play.
In 2016, Makers, Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Engadget, Autoblog and the other AOL-owned publishers will function as the primary distribution platforms for video, with a team inside of AOL serving as the core producers. This production team will continue to be led by VP AOL Studio and Original Content, Nate Hayden, under Jimmy Maymann, Executive Vice President and President, AOL Content & Consumer Brands.
By the 2016 NewFronts in May, AOL will be showcasing a slate from its various brands, including AOL.com. go90 will be the primary focus on the Verizon side, with spend hitting upwards of a billion dollars, according to various industry executives.
Reportedly, over $500 million of that spend has already been allocated to digital-first studios including Awesomeness TV, Whistle Sports, Tastemade, New Form Digital, DanceOn and JASH. And, while the product needs polishing, go90 will soon look to own content, if not the very companies that are currently producing that content for them.
BYE BYE TO MANY, HELLO!, JIMMY MAYMANN
Many of the recent changes, both to the exec team and brand strategy, are said to have followed the recent appointment of Jimmy Maymann as EVP and president of AOL content & consumer brands. Maymann most recently served as the CEO of Huffington Post before being promoted six months ago and originally joined AOL when his company, goviral, was acquired by AOL in 2011. While at Huffington Post, he led its international expansion and helped scale the business’ readership to roughly 200 million monthly unique visitors. Several sources claim that Maymann and his team are likely to soon take over go90 from Brian Angiolet, AOL’s SVP of consumer product portfolio. Multiple executives went so far as to tell VideoInk that “the keys are supposed to be handed over to Maymann” any time now. Angiolet currently oversees multiple brands within Verizon’s innovations team, including go90.
Caroline Campbell, AOL’s SVP Of Brand and Communications, denies this speculation, saying, “AOL and Jimmy are collaborating on product, our content being threaded [into go90] and monetizing it. Brian Angiolet still ‘owns’ go90.”
Among the various changes taking place over the last few months, we are told that the sales teams at AOL have been reorganized over five times on account of multiple acquisitions (Microsoft, Millennial Media, Vidible, etc.) made by CEO Tim Armstrong. The series of shuffles have left the sales teams in disarray, “walking around like zombies,” according to one former executive, who also noted that often teams find themselves pitching against each other on brand activations.
Multiple senior executives have fallen reportedly due to the big changes taking place — President of Huffington Post Live Roy Sekoff, GM of Huffington Post Video Nathan Brown and Vice President, Head of Business Development & Partnerships, Video Frank Besteiro and President AOL Video and Studios Dermot McCormack have also left recently.
According to Campbell, these changes are not being driven by Verizon; though a source tells VideoInk that the AOL and Verizon teams are expected to officially merge in February, at which point, the company could see another set of big changes.