Content is King—And AOL Just Bought a Kingmaker

October 5, 2010

When GigaOm first reported the rumors earlier this week that AOL was buying TechCrunch, I thought for sure it couldn’t be true. While AOL owns a number of blogs like Engadget (tech) and Joystiq (video games) already, I just couldn’t wrap my head around why Michael Arrington, the owner, would sell.

“The truth is I was tired. But I wasn’t tired of writing, or speaking at events. I was tired of our endless tech problems, our inability to find enough talented engineers who wanted to work, ultimately, on blog and CrunchBase software.” – Michael Arrington, on why he sold.

AOL, despite their many missteps (hello Time Warner merger), gets content. They know to compete with the mainstream media, they need more and more content publishers (hence acquiring which lets them target local media). They already have a great sales team in place for years; they just need to sell ads around interesting content, whether it’s tech, game, health, etc.-related.

That doesn’t mean this is a match made in heaven. Arrington, while known for being a kingmaker to Internet start-ups can stir up emotions in some people. As Om Malik said, “Michael is a somewhat complicated man, one who often elicits a very binary emotional response.” There’s the famous case of when normally jovial Leo Laporte exploded at himthey later made up (note: there is offensive language in the first clip. Even Arrington doesn’t always relish the role as he’s been spit on and received death threats from angry start-ups.

Some (or many, depending on your point of view) would argue Arrington did it for the money, not just so he could worry less about running a business and focus more on the writing. Personally, I think if he had to sell out for the reasons he claims, AOL is actually a very good fit. They have not ruined the editorial nature of the blogs they already own—they get letting those editors continue to do what they do best. And they don’t overload the readers of those blogs with flashy or annoying ads.

As PR professionals, it even potentially benefits us. When we get a placement on a Gawker blog, for instance, it usually gets picked up by some of the other ones if the topic fits. Same is true on Weblogs Inc, which is made up of Engadget, Joystiq and others. TechCrunch, which mostly covers start-ups and general Internet news, frequently linked back to CrunchGear which covers gadgets; I wonder how that will go forward since CrunchGear and Engadget used to be competitors and are now owned by the same corporate overload.

It’ll all be interesting to watch. Three years from now, will Arrington be renewing his contract? And who else will AOL snap up?