In This Episode of “As the AOL Turns”: Will Arrington Appear at TechCrunch Disrupt?
With the continuing negotiations between AOL and high-profile TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington likely to come to some conclusion soon, the big question remaining is whether he will appear at its flagship conference, TechCrunch Disrupt, which officially begins tomorrow.
Sources said that seems more likely than not, although the talks between AOL and Arrington are not resolved as yet and his appearance at the highly lucrative conference is part of a whole package.
But it seems unlikely that neither Arrington nor AOL CEO Tim Armstrong and content chief Arianna Huffington wants to damage TechCrunch Disrupt, which makes piles of moolah from sponsors and fees, attracts thousands of attendees, and where a plethora of promising start-ups compete with each other.
And, in fact, some of the slated speakers I have contacted have said that they have not been told of any changes in the program.
A hackathon of those entrepreneurs is now taking place before the main event, where well-known Silicon Valley players will be interviewed on stage by the staff of TechCrunch.
The conference is mostly run by TechCrunch exec Heather Harde, as well as the site’s leading editor Erick Schonfeld.
But, of course, TechCrunch Disrupt has starred Arrington, the larger-than-life blogger now turned venture capitalist.
That shift and how badly it was done is at the center of complex severance negotiations.
As I previously wrote, sources said the company has so far refused Arrington’s bold demand, posted on TechCrunch itself, to either give the popular tech news site “editorial independence” or sell it back to him.
The situation between the popular tech blogger and top execs at the Internet company — which bought his site earlier this year — comes after a week of increasingly testy back and forth between them, after it was revealed that Arrington was starting his own $20 million venture fund called CrunchFund.
The move caused a media firestorm over the ethics and propriety of the move, which was followed by an ugly internal war at the company, with Arrington and TechCrunch staffers on one side and Armstrong and Huffington on the other.
(Full disclosure: Although no one cares what I think, I consider the deal appalling and wrote that it was a “giant, greedy Silicon Valley pig pile.” Now, it seems to be 56 percent piggier!)
After many confusing messages from AOL, Arrington was removed from his longtime job at TechCrunch and placed in its venture arm, after editorial objections from Huffington.
That had supposedly been the the plan until it all blew up, with reveleations about what the CrunchFund deal — which includes $10 million from AOL — meant to TechCrunch and its news gathering.
That seemed clear from a widely cited quote from CrunchFund investor and well-know Silicon Valley entrepreneur Reid Hoffman to me last week:
“TechCrunch will get some real deal flow from entrepreneurs that we would otherwise not see, because they have established a prominent position as the SV/Tech industry information feed. As many tech entrepreneurs read it — both within Silicon Valley and globally — and view the information news feed to be their target for announcing themselves to the world, CrunchFund will have access to deal flow to these diverse and early stage companies. Some of these companies will be the kind of early stage companies with billion-dollar potential that Greylock invests in.”
There you had it: No one can afford to be out of the deal flow in these competitive times, even if it means cutting corners and using a tech news site as fodder.
Arrington obviously has another view of the deal he struck with Armstrong and, sources said, wants his powerful tech news platform back. He has been talking to many Silicon Valley power players about the situation, said sources.
More to come soon from this Silicon Valley soap opera. And, hopefully, it will be a happy — well, happy-ish — ending.
(Full disclosure: AllThingsD also runs conferences that could be construed as competitive to TechCrunch Disrupt, although we both we seem to do just fine. In addition, Walt Mossberg and I are getting along like peas and carrots, although we vigorously disagree over the humongous talent of Barry Manilow.)