Right now, all that investors value in AOL is its declining, but still revenue-rich dial-up business.AOL CEO Tim Armstrong’s grand turnaround plan is to take the dial-up revenues and invest them in new businesses.
One of those businesses is a national media brand, The Huffington Post.
The other is a network of local news sites called Patch. AOL plans to invest $120 million into Patch this year and the next year and so on. Patch has about 800 editors and more than 100 sales people.
Clayton Moran of the Benchmark Group says AOL’s fate will “hinge on the success or failure of Patch.”
One of the very many disgruntled Patch employees we’ve been talking to over the past few weeks has leaked us internal traffic reports for the 70 or sites in Patch’s Southern California region.
They give a crystal clear look at how much traffic AOL is getting for all the money it’s putting into these things.
JANUARY: Suddenly a huge jump. 76 sites, 900,000 uniques. Why? Some speculate AOL started feeding Patch stories into AOL Mail
JANUARY: Another reason for the jump? The most popular story in the region was a HUGE hit, with 300,000 uniques. It was about how California has too many new laws.
MARCH: A story warning about an possible incoming Tsunami was the most popular, with 14,000 uniques. Local alerts!
There are two ways to look at these numbers.
One way is the glass half-full way. In this view, it is remarkable that Patch's SoCal sites grew from 300,000 or so uniques in November to 1.2 million or so in March -- without adding very many new sites. That's great growth!
What's more, some of Patch's more popular stories -- looks at local laws and warnings about incoming natural disasters -- prove that there is appetite for Patch content in these communities.
The glass half-empty view is this: Patch's SoCal group started out with a huge number of sites to begin with - about 70. By March, that number was up to 74. If each Patch only employed ONE writer, that would mean that a Web site staffed with 74 people was only able to get 1.2 million uniques. That's a pathetically low number in comparison to what other Web outfits are able to do. AOL's other big media property, the Huffington Post, gets about 30 million uniques with just around 100 staffers.
In this pessimistic view, AOL isn't getting very much traffic at all for the $120 million it's spending this year (and next…) building a news room.
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