Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Ghosts of AOL, Lehman Visit Time Warner in $25 Billion Write-Down

Yes, this economic collapse is different than the dotcom blowup. But there are some similarities.

For instance, in 2002, Time Warner had to take a $54 billion write-down connected to its disastrous AOL deal. Today, the company has announced a $25 billion write-down, which is in part connected to… its disastrous AOL deal.

To be fair, most of that charge has nothing to do with AOL, but with problems in its cable business; spin-out company Time Warner Cable (TWC) announced a $15 billion write-down of its own. But while Time Warner doesn’t elaborate on the charges in its release–it just says they are “related to goodwill and identifiable intangible assets at the Cable, Publishing and AOL segments”–I’m told that some of the write-down does indeed relate to the original AOL deal from eight years ago.

Other problems at Time Warner aren’t of its own making: The company says it will also take a hit of $50 million to $60 million from a “restructuring of a lease for space in the Time & Life Building, held by a lessee who recently declared bankruptcy.” That tenant, I’m told, was Lehman Brothers.

In any case, as astonishing as these numbers look in print, they don’t have much to do with Time Warner’s performance as a company, in the present tense. But Time Warner had worrisome news on that front, too: “The economic environment has proved somewhat more challenging than the Company previously expected, particularly for the advertising businesses at the AOL and Publishing segments.” Sigh.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work