In 1999, America Online, the Internet service, paid $124 billion for TimeWarner, the video/publishing conglomerate. Now, TimeWarner, worth just $24 billion, is giving AOL away to its shareholders after failing to find a buyer. AOL will be run as a public company by former Google executive Tim Armstrong.
The AOL deal ends one of the biggest and most expensive management failures in U.S. business. Who's paying the price? Investors, employees, customers. Not management: Richard D. Parsons, TimeWarner's president at the time of the AOL deal and its chief executive for most of the 2000s, is now chairman of Citigroup, the giant, government-subsidized bank. An elder statesman of corporate America.
This follows TimeWarner's March spin-off of TimeWarner Cable, which would make an interesting acquisition for its major cable-based competitor, Philadelphia's own Comcast, in its joint campaign with Google to dominate the Internet. But first, Comcast would have to convince the Obama administration's antitrust lawyers that preserving multiple cable providers doesn't matter in today's online-phone-video competive environment, despite the pricing power already evident from cable's gravity-defying rate increases and robust profit margins.