If Om Malik’s information is correct, TechCrunch will be announcing a sale to AOL today or tomorrow.
As long as AOL is committed to the premium content business–a commitment that has seemed to waver of late–this is a smart move.
TechCrunch’s traffic and revenue will soar when the company is plugged into AOL’s salesforce and distribution system, so whatever AOL pays as a multiple of TechCrunch’s current revenues will be chicken-feed relative to the revenue the integrated site will ultimately generate. (The purchase price will likely be more than $50mm).
Contrary to popular belief, TechCrunch will also be fine when founder Mike Arrington leaves, just as Gawker was fine when founding editor Elizabeth Spiers left, Engadget was fine when Peter Rojas left, and most other high-quality new media properties have been fine when big-name editors and writers have left.
(Yes, if ALL the writers and editors leave the day the deal closes, TechCrunch won’t be fine, but we assume AOL’s smarter than that.)
TechCrunch will help AOL bolster its tech content, which is one of the most promising advertising verticals. And so on.
But there’s something else that AOL is buying in TechCrunch in addition to the leading tech blog: A big-company M&A specialist named Heather Harde, who is now TechCrunch’s CEO.
One of the next phases of the evolution of the online media business will be consolidation: There are dozens of small but successful properties out there that would be much more successful if they were part of a major company. Just as Time, Inc. and other traditional media companies were assembled via both organic growth and M&A, the new media conglomerates of the future will be assembled this way.
Heather has wanted to pursue a roll-up strategy at TechCrunch for several years now. TechCrunch alone hasn’t had the resources or opportunity to do it. But AOL does.
And AOL, meanwhile, just lost one of its big premium content executives, Marty Moe. Heather could presumably run AOL’s Weblogs business and/or manage a roll-up strategy. She used to do M&A at News Corp, so she not only has these skills, but is also presumably equipped to navigate the politics of a large organisation.
So that’s another thing AOL would be buying here. And acquiring Heather, too, makes sense–if AOL is committed to a premium content strategy. Which, again, based on the company’s recent behaviour, does not seem to be a given.
(Not that it’s relevant to this discussion, but Heather was once voted one of The Sexiest CEOs Alive >)