Does Steve Case want AOL back?

Cynthia Brumfield over at points to a fascinating opinion piece by AOL founder Steve Case that appears in Sunday’s Washington Post (which obviously appears on the website Saturday night). In the piece, Case argues that the merger between America Online and Time Warner — which was actually a $165-billion acquisition of Time Warner — hasn’t worked, and therefore the two companies should be split apart again.

Cynthia notes that complaining about a lack of integration between Time Warner and AOL is a little disingenuous, considering AOL was the one in the driver’s seat after the deal closed, and Case himself became chairman (although Time Warner chairman Gerald Levin was CEO). In fact, there were reports at the time that Time Warner executives were more than a little peeved at being sidelined by their counterparts at the online company. As the dot-com bubble deflated, of course, it became harder and harder to justify that, and Time Warner reasserted control.

In any case — no pun intended — the AOL founder says that by last July he had come to the conclusion that the company should be split not just in two, but into four: Time Warner Cable, Time Warner Entertainment, Time and AOL. The board disagreed, and Case left. At the end of his piece, it’s clear that he would like to draw a comparison between AOL’s somewhat tattered reputation and another company that was once dismissed as a has-been: Apple.

It’s unlikely AOL would ever be able to pull off a similar rejuvenation, however, since it would likely be bought by Microsoft or Google first.


Mark Evans says the piece is part of Steve Case’s ongoing attempts at “reputation rehab.” And Om Malik writes a post in which he appears to be comparing Case to Brutus in Julius Caesar. As I mentioned in a comment on Om’s blog, I think he’s being a little hard on Case. I’m not saying he’s a candidate for sainthood, and much of what he did at AOL made things worse instead of better. But he didn’t manufacture the market value that allowed AOL to take over Time Warner, nor did he slip something into Gerald Levin’s coffee that made him or the board accept the deal.

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