According to a blizzard of reports, starting with the Wall Street Journal and now including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Reuters, Google is close to a deal to take a five-per-cent stake in America Online for $1-billion (U.S.). This, of course, is only the latest in a series of rumours about what’s going to happen to AOL – first Microsoft was close to a deal to buy the whole enchilada, then Google’s's name was brought up, then Microsoft was seen as being back on top.
At one point, the speculation was that Time Warner CEO Dick Parsons was trying to get the takeover rumours going so that he could cut a better deal with Google, which AOL uses to power its search results. Then AOL founder Steve Case came out with his impassioned plea to split up the company – the same thing Carl Icahn seems to want to do – in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, which I wrote about, and which was hilariously satirized in a commentary piece here.
Most analysts seem to think that Google taking a piece of AOL – if only so that Microsoft or Yahoo don’t get it – makes sense. The former walled wasteland… er, garden is estimated to account for about 11 per cent of Google’s annual search revenue, and that wouldn’t be a good thing to give up. And it’s only a billion, right? Pocket change for a company with a market value of almost $130-billion.
Several people, including O’Reilly Radar and John Battelle, have noticed a potentially ominous sentence in the New York Times piece: “Google, which prides itself on the purity of its search results, agreed to give favored placement to content from AOL throughout its site, something it has never done before.” Don’t jump the shark, says Battelle. Henry Blodget says it’s a good deal for Google, and a bad one for Microsoft. And Rafat over at paidcontent.org has a nice roundup of the various twists and turns this story has taken.