Tim Armstrong convinced Verizon to bet $9 billion on internet media companies over the last few years. Now he’s leaving.
What happens to the media companies he’s leaving behind?
That’s the main question following news that Armstrong is negotiating an exit from the telco, first reported by the Wall Street Journal this morning.
The WSJ’s story was easy to confirm with a couple calls, since it turns out to have been an open secret that Armstrong was headed out at Verizon. A corporate re-org this summer stripped him of many of his responsibilities and essentially handed day-to-day control of his Oath media empire to K. Guru Gowrappan, the executive Armstrong hired as his COO last spring.
I always wondered why Armstrong, after generating a huge personal fortune and a long, difficult tenure as CEO of a public company, stuck around Verizon after selling AOL to the telco for $4.4 billion in 2015.
In retrospect it’s more clear. After convincing Verizon to spend another $4.5 billion on Yahoo, Armstrong wanted Verizon to spin the combined company out, giving him control of a much bigger internet content and advertising company, with important ties to a giant distributor.
But the spinout never happened, and Lowell McAdams, the Verizon CEO Armstrong first worked with, has been replaced by Hans Vestberg, who doesn’t seem to share McAdams’s interest in becoming a media player.
Note, for instance, that under Vestberg Verizon has shuttered Go90, a would-be mobile video service that you never watched. It burned at least $658 million in the process.
And while Verizon had previously kicked the tires on CBS and other potential media acquisitions — Armstrong had poked around at Time Inc. before Meredith acquired it this year — it has signaled that it’s not going to write big checks for other media properties.
Meanwhile, just to put all of this in perspective: Oath generated $1.9 billion for Verizon in Q2 — that’s 6 percent of the company’s total revenue of $32.2 billion.
So, again. What happens to Oath now?
Verizon PR declined to comment. And the semi-official messaging I’ve received is that the various components of Oath — sites like HuffPost, Yahoo Finance, TechCrunch, Engadget and many more — will be fine because they’re being integrated directly into Verizon and will benefit from its distribution and scale. Nothing to see here.
[UPDATE: Here’s more commentary from Verizon, via CFO Matt Ellis, who wouldn’t comment on “rumors” about “personnel announcements” — which are not rumors — but did insist that Verizon is bullish about Oath’s prospects, and that it continues to think it can grow the business from a $7 billion business into a $10 billion one by 2020. “We continue to be very committed to Oath. There’s a significant opportunity for us there.”]
On the other hand:
- Guy who built media empire is leaving.
- Guy who sponsored the media empire builder has left.
- Media empire is a small piece of a company that doesn’t seem interested in building media empires anymore.
Draw your own conclusion.
When you’re done, here’s a chat Kara Swisher and I had with Armstrong at Recode’s Code Media conference last February. Our main query: What are you doing at Verizon? Looks like we weren’t the only ones asking that question.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.