Marriage of Verizon and AOL Brings Big Opportunities and Questions About Content Aims

Marketers weigh in on deal

When Verizon revealed today that it's buying AOL for $4.4 billion, it begged the question: How would it affect AOL's huge content plays of the last few years?

AOL remains tight-lipped about the implications of the nascent deal, but it probably believes Verizon can help distribute AOL On original videos and other programming through its various channels. For more insight, we asked a handful of marketers and agency leads to weigh in.

"The Verizon-AOL deal is about differentiating Verizon as a content provider in the mobile age," said David Deal, a social media and content marketing consultant. "I would not be surprised if Verizon and AOL were to create original content for Verizon customers."

Krista Lang, svp and executive media director at 22squared, echoed Deal's position. "The match with Verizon ensures they get even more scale where it matters—in mobile," she said.

But, other marketers were more skeptical.

Rich Guest, president of North American operations at Tribal Worldwide, suggested that the acquisition wasn't without potential issues. For instance, he wondered if Verizon would gate popular AOL content producers like TechCrunch and HuffPo—if the latter is part of the deal, that is—for users of the telecom company's services or use its subscribers to drive traffic to such properties.

"Strategically, I would hope for the latter," he said.

AOL has the second lowest brand health among social media players, with only Myspace getting a lower score, according to YouGov BrandIndex. While Alex Smith, content strategy lead at Huge, acknowledged Verizon's wisdom in nabbing AOL's video content and ad-tech offerings, he pointed to such perception problems.

"Verizon is the first big telecom company to attempt to compete with Internet companies like Google and Facebook in these areas, but the difficult thing for them to manage will be the negative brand perception of both Verizon and AOL," he said, stating that tweets about the deal this morning were often negative.

Smith continued, "Due in large part to that brand perception, they will find it difficult to compete with YouTube or Facebook on user-generated content, and AOL is having a harder time selling ads on its owned content than it is on third-party sites. Therefore, the ad network part of AOL's business must be what Verizon finds most valuable. … Short term, there are great opportunities to pair Verizon's content with AOL's ad platforms, but putting the pieces together long term will be difficult."

Conversely, Thomas Ordahl, chief strategy officer at Landor, sees the proverbial glass as half full for the companies.

"Two strong but different platforms and strong but different content," Ordahl explained. "This marriage could really work."

One thing is certain: How the Verizon-AOL marriage plays out will be one of the most closely watched stories of the rest of 2015.