Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

AOL to Wall Street: Our Turnaround Is Going to Be Really Slow

AOL disappointed investors with a Q1 earnings report that missed low expectations. CEO Tim Armstrong doesn’t want that to happen again, so he’s bellowing as loud as he can: Don’t expect much from us anytime soon.

Yesterday Armstrong sent CFO Artie Minson out to Barclays Capital to repeat the message. It got through. Here’s analyst Douglas Anmuth noting that ad sales will be underwhelming for a while, even though the Web ad business is bouncing back:

Management was quick to point out that AOL’s overall display pipeline for the back half remains soft. Management indicated that it has booked roughly 60% as much inventory for the back half as it had booked at the same time last year–and that was in a softer overall macro environment.

On the plus side, pricing for the ads AOL (AOL) does sell are improving, which it can attribute both to the overall recovery and AOL’s focus on selling high-end inventory while dumping its low-cost stuff. Still, Anmuth says, “We do not expect the uptick in CPMs to offset the removal of low quality ads and the sales force dislocation in the near term.”

So lower those expectations, okay?

But not too much!

AOL also suggests that its new search pact, which will replace the one with Google (GOOG) that expires in December, will be a big deal. According to Anmuth, “Management is approaching the renewal as a broad strategic partnership for the company that has many potential outcomes. AOL mentioned mapping and local could be part of the deal and we wouldn’t be surprised if a display ad partnership was also included.”

Barclays thinks Armstrong’s recent hire of ad tech executive Alex Gounares from Microsoft (MSFT) means the deal could end up tipping to Redmond. Stay tuned.

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