Time-Warner to AOL: I just can’t quit you

Recently installed Time-Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes is apparently kicking ass and taking names over at the struggling media and entertainment giant, talking about cutting costs by 15 per cent and restructuring the conglomerate’s cable division — but for some unfathomable reason, he still can’t bring himself to say that TW is planning to dump the declining AOL Internet access business. All he will say is that the company is splitting AOL into the access business and the content business, so as to “increase the strategic choices” available to the company.

Strategic choices? At this point, the only strategic choice for Time-Warner when it comes to AOL is the choice between whether to use a .45 pistol or a shotgun to administer the killing blow. I realize that when you’re a big-time CEO running a gigantic corporation with many moving parts, you can’t just come out and say “We are selling this dog,” but come on — everyone has to know that this is coming, right? AOL has been shedding subscribers by the millions every quarter for as long as I can remember. The access business is dying, and the body has already begun to smell bad.

If anything, the death of the access unit is the easy part. Sell it for parts to an income fund or someone who wants to play the declining margins game, and then move on. But the content business is a bit more problematic, as Cynthia Brumfield wisely points out at IPDemocracy. Although the shift from walled garden to free and advertising-supported content has been a relative success for the company — in the sense that advertising revenue has been growing — it still hasn’t come close to making up for the revenue that AOL gave up by making the shift.

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