Back in the day, AOL was one of the biggest names on the Internet and its merger with Time Warner drew huge headlines. But since then, it seems as if AOL has become the Internet's whipping boy, a lost soul that abandoned all of its subscription revenue in exchange for a spot in the cut-throat online advertising business. On the surface, it looked like AOL was positioning itself well - it made acquisitions to build a strong ad network and go head-to-head with the other big guys, notably Google. But despite coming up with new approaches to the ad game, its efforts have largely failed to pay off. Its customers were confused by the newer processes and kept AOL from becoming a stronger force in the business. Sure, the company has been restructured and streamlined its operations - but, it hasn't been enough to squash the gossipy chatter about Time Warner wanting to dump AOL - or parts of it.
The drama the stemmed from Microsoft's unsuccessful bid for Yahoo may be just the open window that Time Warner needs. Yahoo is clearly looking to position itself as a stronger player in online advertising and prove to shareholders that it doesn't need Microsoft. Meanwhile, Microsoft may also be considering AOL as an acquisition. The AOL ad network - called Platform A - could be strong valuable enough that Microsoft would see it as a weapon to maintain its competitive fight with Google. At the same time, it could also send a message to Microsoft's shareholders that there was a plan that went beyond Yahoo.
But the clock is ticking. There's a big red circle on the calendar - and it's marking Yahoo's August 1 shareholder meeting as the big day. New board members, ready to be elected and cut a deal with Microsoft, are on the sidelines. But Yahoo's shareholders will have to be convinced before July comes to an end that billionaire investor Carl Icahn is off the mark and that Yahoo is on the path to something better than an acquisition by Microsoft. Everyone involved - Microsoft, Yahoo, Icahn and, yes, even Time Warner - is going to have to step up their games before the big day to make things happen. The window of opportunity will not stay open forever.
No matter how it goes, rest assured that there will be plenty of business lessons learned over the next two weeks.