Peter Kafka

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Arianna Huffington on Her New AOL Job: "I Want to Stay Here Forever"

Tim Armstrong and company spent yesterday explaining their $315 million Huffington Post purchase to the press. Now they’re doing the same for Wall Street, via a conference call.

AOL CFO Artie Minson prepped investors for the call with a memo laying out expectations. Short version: AOL thinks HuffPo will earn about $10 million on revenue of $50 million this year (as long as you’re okay with using “adjusted OIBDA” as a proxy for “profit”). It also thinks the purchase will save it $20 million a year, but it’s going to spend around $20 million on restructuring charges when the deal goes through.

I’ll liveblog the call below:

8:02 am: Greetings! About to start now.

8:03 am: On the call: Tim Armstrong, Arianna Huffington, Artie Minson.

8:03 am: Armstrong makes a Super Bowl joke that I can’t quite follow, and I like football. But now praising Arianna, co-founder Kenny Lerer and outgoing AOL CEO Eric Hippeau.

“The Huffington Post is one of the best properties on the Internet.” Armstrong, Huffington and Minson are all BlackBerry users.

8:06 am: On revenue: This gives an opportunity to serve more brand marketers, who are “very interested” in the scale this gives us.

8:07 am: Spending next 30 days on integration. “Really synergies to be had.”

Next steps: Next 72 hours communicating with employees, talking to partners. 1,500 AOL workers on the phone this morning explaining deal to others.

“This may be the smallest disruption” internally of any deal I’ve worked on. Majority of integration done within 35 to 40 days.

8:09 am: We’ve looked at a bunch of companies, though we’re mainly going to concentrate on organic growth. But Arianna is great [many superlatives] and she “also happens to be a woman.”

8:10 am: Here’s Arianna.

8:11 am: “Amazing” how aligned two orgs are.

8:11 am: HuffPo was profitable last year. We were thinking about bringing in additional investors last year, and an IPO down the line. But this made perfect sense.

8:12 am: This deal provides a “dramatic acceleration” for the plans we already had.

8:13 am: Some praise for Patch, AOL’s local strategy.

8:14 am: Can’t wait to start!

8:14 am: Alrighty, then. Here’s Artie Minson with some nuts and bolts.

Actually, it’s some color on the deal. But a lot of it is in the prepared remarks he put out earlier this morning.

8:15 am: Again, $20 million in cost savings here. And again, we’ll have to pay up for restructuring: $20 million for cuts, and $10 million for purchase price.

8:17 am: Still basically reading from prepared remarks. Some bookkeeping talk re: compensation accounting.

8:18 am: Remember, display ad growth coming will finally start showing up second half of this year.

8:19 am: Q&A:

Q: Talk about content strategy. Does HuffPo become hub for content going forward? Does it replace Seed? And how long is Arianna’s contract?

A: “The press” has been talking about our content strategy, so let me be clear–we’re focusing on premium content. Things like Seed and StudioNow are platforms–you can do whatever you want with them, different quality levels, at different types of scale.

And then the other thing that is important about those platforms is the ability they give us to work with advertisers.

One of our main interests in HuffPo is their technology and publishing system. So now we have multiple systems [which he is saying is a good thing]. “Our content strategy hasn’t changed.” The “stuff that was out in the press about the AOL Way” was just one way of doing things. [This is not very convincing]

Arianna, tell us how long you’re going to stay.

8:24 am: Arianna: “I’ve told Tim I want to stay here forever. I want this to be the last act of my life.” Anything I want to do I can do here.

[Sorry, missed next part but it was a defense/explanation of content strategy.]

8:26 am: Armstrong: Arianna has a multiyear contract, but it’s open-ended.

8:27 am: Arianna: By the way, we’re going to bring back commenting to AOL stories, and socialize them.

8:28 am: Q: Why buy instead of partnering? Were there other bidders? Also, how will HuffPo politics affect AOL?

8:28 am: Armstrong: We do partnerships where there is “limited upside to those arrangements” so ” we can really spend time on the areas we want to win”–i.e., we don’t care about sports, we do care about women.

“Arianna is somebody we’d rather have inside our building than outside our building.”

“If there were or weren’t bidders on the other side,” I think we got the right price.

8:30 am: Arianna. “As we’ve said, again and again, Huffington Post was not for sale….Nobody was in a hurry to cash out, everybody believed that we could do an IPO down the road.” It’s just that Tim gave us a great offer. [hrrrm.]

On politics–we used to be all about politics, now we’re not. Just 15 percent of our traffic. We have a divorce section now.

Talking up AOL’s “college” section.

8:33 am: Q: For Arianna: More on Patch, please. What do think about what AOL’s done with it, and what you can do with it?

8:33 am: [Every time Arianna says "local level" I think she's saying "locker level." It's happened at least twice, maybe more, on this call.]

There’s a “greatest person of the day” feature we have, and I think Patch should use that. [Or maybe vice-versa, sorry.] I also like their five percent “giving back” rule, cause marketing, etc.

8:35 am: Armstrong: Again, we can do national and local. That’s important. NFL rights are important, and so are local news stories.

8:36 am: Q: Who’s going to sell what? And can you talk about pricing disparity between AOL and HuffPo?

8:37 am: Armstrong: “We would like to maintain all the people from both sales forces [except for Greg Coleman!]. I think we will end up with a large-scale, large-property organization–I don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like, though.

On sell-through rate: Slightly lower at HuffPo, because they’ve been ramping up traffic, and sales force. On CPM, same story. So we can bring up sell-through rate and CPM, and have a larger sales force. [This is pretty much the best argument for the deal that Armstrong can make.]

[BTW: Good back-channel discussion on Twitter right now about AOL's SEO skills, and the people behind it. None of that coming up during this call right now.]

[Sorry, I meant HuffPo's SEO skills, much of which stem from blueprint BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti set out.]

Q: Why not use equity for this deal?

A: Because our equity is priced too low, essentially. But HuffPo employees did roll over 25 percent of deal consideration into AOL options. So as that equity gets more valuable, they’ll get upside.

8:45 am: Q: In your statement, you talked about OIBDA growth in 2013. More on that please.

Minson–probably going to stick to my prepared remarks on that one.

8:46 am: Last Q: Your acqusitions have been about toolsets or content. As you think about others going forward, what else do you want?

Armstrong: We have long-term vision. On plumbing: We’ve wanted to get platforms and plumbing straightened out, and we’re doing that now. Think about the bones or foundation of a very large property. That’s why we’ve been doing infrastructure, like with video–5Min and GoViral and StudioNow.

Going forward, we’ll be doing infrastructure. And we’ll continue to look at “media properties and media brands” that fit our strategy. [Remember, Web site owners: HuffPo just got 10x revenue.

8:50 am: Minson: But we're very price sensitive and we've walked away from deals.

8:50 am: Arianna: And we like women!

8:51 am: Armstrong sums up: Success "in the Internet space" requires vision and execution. That's this deal. And remember, content and brands become more valuable as tech gets faster, more advanced. And "expect us to stay on strategy and on point" going forward. "We're going to overcommunicate" with both sets of employees as we integrate. [You've been warned!]

And we’re done. Thanks for reading.

[Photo credit: Arianna Huffington]


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