Tim Armstrong’s Hail Mary Pass
AOL’s purchase of the Huffington Post is the equivalent of a fourth-quarter Hail Mary pass. The game clock was ticking down on C.E.O. Tim Armstrong’s pledge to demonstrate by the second half of this year that AOL could mount a comeback from the near dead. AOL suffered a dismal last quarter of 2010, with revenues and traffic and subscribers continuing to fall. Quarterback Armstrong was not scoring with pledges to transform AOL into a content company. He boldly threw about a hundred and twenty million dollars per year at Patch, an attempt to create hyper-local online news sites, which I describe in my piece on Armstrong that ran in the magazine last month. He hired more journalists last year than any news organization. He dared make acquisitions of quality sites, like TechCrunch. Because Armstrong is a charismatic C.E.O., and came to AOL with an aura of success from Google, he was embraced as an inspirational team leader.
But as Ben Roethlisberger reminded us in the Super Bowl yesterday, quarterbacks can go from hero to bum if they fail to get in the end zone. Armstrong needed to call an audible, to do something different to score.