Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Liveblogging Fortune Brainstorm Tech: AOL CEO and Chairman Tim "The Plumber" Armstrong

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It did not start out too well for AOL CEO and Chairman Tim Armstrong, with a poll on the screen showing most of the attendees in the ballroom at Fortune Brainstorm Tech voting that the Time Warner (TWX) online unit was either out of juice or irrelevant.

The event, which is taking place over three days in Pasadena, Calif., is packed full of Web and media luminaries, so BoomTown will be sitting in the front row and liveblogging some of the sessions here, such as this one that I did for the session with Bob Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Company (DIS).

Armstrong did not break any news in the interview with Fortune’s lively interviewer, David Kirkpatrick, relying more on projecting an I’m-in-charge-here attitude and saying confident things like “a challenge is also an opportunity.”

In general, Armstrong tried to be upbeat about the prospects for AOL, which has for too long been the Web’s sad sack of an Internet company.

“We are still in a very large trade wind,” he said, referring to advertisers spending money online. “If someone asked you if advertising [online] is going to go up, I think you would have to say yes.”

To take advantage of that, Armstrong said AOL would be focused on investing “in content systems that connect with advertising systems–that’s a white space we are going after.”

He noted that AOL needs to have the same “plumbing approach” to content that Google (GOOG)–where Armstrong had been a major advertising exec before taking his new job–has had to search advertising.

“You have to take the Silicon Valley approach to content,” Armstrong declared.

Armstrong also talked a little bit about his recent 100-day trip around the AOL empire worldwide and what he got out of it.

“I got a lot of advice from different people about what to do,” he said.

His takeaway, which he will discuss at an all-hands meeting scheduled for tomorrow with AOL staff: “It’s really about strategy. If we don’t have the right strategy, we’re not going to win.”

Which is kind of stating the obvious, but it sounded good.

Armstrong also touched lightly on the issue of getting rid of various assets AOL has compiled over the last several years, like it pricey purchase of the Bebo social networking site.

But some, as I recently reported–such as the Truveo video search service and the information search company Relegence–are staying.

Armstrong also talked of buying, but judiciously–noting to me later that AOL had 900 possible acquisition deals blocked in its pipeline.

Someone call a plumber stat!

Armstrong said he has put a stop to a lot of those deals, including putting the kibosh on a $400 million check he was supposed to sign right when he got there.

It was, as he told me after his interview, a windfall that supposed to go to a big computer maker for a distribution deal, which he chose to pass on.

“Everything has to make sense from a return-on-investment basis for me,” said Armstrong. “It’s that easy.”

And that hard, although he did move the crowd, which was polled with the same questions about AOL’s chances after Armstrong talked.

He got more people in the audience to vote that AOL would “return to health as a major Internet player,” which is–as legions of the company’s leaders have shown–no easy task.

[Photo credit: Brad Markel for Fortune]


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