MediaFile

AOL: Down so long, it’s starting to look up

Editor’s note: This piece originally ran on PandoDaily.com. It is being reprinted with permission.

Good news! For the first time in seven years, AOL’s revenue didn’t shrink! The company said Tuesday morning that it brought in $532 million in revenue last quarter, flat with the same quarter one year ago. Which is to say AOL still hasn’t seen any growth since 2005. Okay… maybe it’s not such great news after all.

But AOL investors are happy. They pushed the stock up as much as 16 percent Tuesday, after AOL reported its earnings and promised a $5.15 a share dividend this December, financed by the $1.1 billion deal to sell and license its patents to Microsoft. AOL also posted a net profit of 22 cents a share, versus a 2-cent loss a year ago. That profit was well above the 17 cents a share analysts were expecting.

After three and a half years as CEO, Tim Armstrong is starting to see some success in turning AOL around. This is a notable accomplishment for two reasons. First, turnarounds in the Web industry are as rare as they are difficult. More often, they result in a company merely treading water and not really reviving. Second, AOL’s turnaround was especially tricky because, for many years, its profits came from the aging dial-up subscription business that was a big business a dozen years ago.

Armstrong is making a lot of shrewd moves this year. He arranged the patent deal with Microsoft, giving AOL enough cash to buy back shares and offer a dividend. That won him the support of shareholders right in time to defeat a challenge by activist hedge fund Starboard Value. Armstrong has also succeeded in cutting some costs at AOL to shore up its profits.

Instagram’s Facebook filter

The startup had millions of users, but, from the beginning, just one customer.

The predominant way of interpreting Facebook’s billion-dollar purchase of Instagram, in light of the social-networking giant’s forthcoming IPO, is that Mark Zuckerberg had to pick up the photo-sharing app to boost his company’s mobile engagement. That would allow him to guard the mobile flank against incursions from Google, Twitter, and whatever other social-media tools might next arise.

That may be true – and it may even be the way Zuck thought about the deal when he swallowed hard and ponied up the purchase price. But that way of analyzing Facebook’s pickup, and the pickup of dozens of other startups, not just by Facebook but by Google, Twitter, LinkedIn and others, is probably not telling the whole story. Here’s a different theory, one that better describes the tech world that we, the users of the Internet, now inhabit: Instagram may have had millions of us as its users, but it was really built for just one customer: Facebook.

Silicon Valley, for too long, has confused the issue of what it means to be a user of a website, service or app, and what it means to be a customer of the app. Intuitively, you’d think they would be one and the same: The person using the app is the person consuming the app. But increasingly, apps are being made to grab the attention of the hegemonic companies in tech. Whatever it takes to get bought.

Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson’s forgivable sin

We’ve all had a little time to breathe after the disclosure last week that Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson embellished his resume. Despite saying he received an undergraduate computer science degree, he in fact did not. And while rising through several positions of increasing responsibility for years, he allowed those vetting his suitability to believe otherwise.

So far Yahoo has said Thompson was guilty of an “inadvertent error” and that it was reviewing the matter. Third Point, the activist shareholder who revealed what had apparently been hiding in plain sight and is trying to grab spots on Yahoo’s board, is now demanding that Yahoo fire Thompson.

Is this what’s best for Yahoo? I doubt it. Is Scott Thompson what’s best for Yahoo? I don’t know. It’s too early to say. And that’s the point.

from Paul Smalera:

Facebook.coop

Facebook shouldn't pay its users. Its users should pay to own Facebook.

“Facebook was not originally created to be a company,” founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote in his letter to investors announcing the IPO of his already hugely successful and profitable company. “It was built to accomplish a social mission — to make the world more open and connected.”

Facebook has succeeded wildly, despite internal admonitions that its “journey” is only 1 percent finished. Journalists have latched onto Zuckerberg’s statement that Facebook wants to “rewire” the way the world works. In a world of thousands of self-anointed “social media experts,” only Zuckerberg can claim to have basically invented what the world thinks of as social media. He has etched himself into the timeline of human innovation.

Pity then, that Zuckerberg hasn’t turned his talents or attention toward Facebook’s financial underpinnings. After all, an IPO? How ho-hum can he get? If Mark really wants to accomplish his social mission with Facebook, he should share the company’s ownership with the people who helped him create it. Not just his Harvard contemporaries. Not just the programmers. Not even just the venture capitalists.

Chipmakers most creative, drugmakers least?

Chipmakers including Intel and Qualcomm make up the world’s most innovative industry, according to a new analysis of patents by Thomson Reuters that is equally notable for some of the companies it does not include.

Thomson Reuters has just released its “Top 100 Global Innovators” list, which it compiled by scrutinizing patent data around the world using a peer-review methodology it developed.

“We tried to take an objective look at technology innovation and apply a composite measure not just of volumes, but also of influence in terms of citations of later published patents, in terms of globalization of patenting,” says Bob Stembridge, the lead analyst behind the study.

The dreary details of Groupon’s future

By Kevin Kelleher
The views expressed are his own.

Underwriting is usually a cheerless business. Taking a company public involves long regulatory filings, endless hours of due diligence and PowerPoint-driven roadshows. Investors need details, even if the details are dreary.

And then there’s the Groupon IPO. The daily deal company went public at $20 a share Friday and surged as high as 40%, briefly valuing the company at $20 billion. It may not be the hottest tech IPO so far this year — that distinction belongs to LinkedIn, which doubled its value on its first day — but it is the most discussed and divisive deal. Bulls and bears argue over the company and its future with a kind of passion that belongs to the culture wars.

On its face, the IPO is just about a company raising money, but it’s also so much more: It’s a spectacle — a dramatic tale of the fastest growing company in history brushing off a $6 billion bid by Google to go public and quickly become worth three times as much. It’s a scrappy outsider vindicating critics who attacked it mercilessly during an enforced quiet period. It’s a gaudy billboard luring other tech startups to come into the public markets.

Inkling launches digital textbooks 2.0 for iPads

Apple dominates the tablet market — its iOS tablet software accounted for more than 60 percent of the tablet market in the second quarter, while Google’s Android made up about 30 percent, according to Strategy Analytics. So it’s no surprise that more than 40 educational institutions  in the United States either require or recommend in-coming freshman or first-years come equipped with an iPad.

For example, that list includes  the medical schools at Brown, UC Irvine, Cornell and UCF; undergrads at Boston University, Abilene Christian University and Georgia Perimeter College; business students at Hult Business School, Lamar Business School and Seton Hill. Even prep schools are in on the act including South Kent, Princeton Day School and Madison Academy.

Certainly it’s appealing to slip an iPad into a backpack rather than massive tomes that students need to lug around campus.

Life after Google: Schmidt eyes talk show shtick

GERMANY/What do you do after ten years running one of the world’s most successful and feared companies?

If you’re Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, it seems the role of television talk-show host holds some appeal. The 55-year-old Schmidt, who in April will hand over day-to-day control of Google to co-founder Larry Page, has been working on developing a show that would feature him as the host, according to the New York Post’s Page Six.

The article does not say exactly what type of talk-show Schmidt wants to emcee.

Will Schmidt, who has toiled in the tech industry for decades, cast himself as a feel-good self-help guru a la Dr Phil, or might he see a model of inspiration in Jerry Springer’s tireless work chronicling the everyday dramas and disputes of regular Joes?

Today In Music: Q&A with Tim Westergren founder of Pandora

Q&A: Tim Westergren, Founder Pandora

Pandora_Tim Westergren11Pandora is the leading Internet radio service in the United States with more than 75 million registered listeners  claiming more than 50 percent of that market using its free service. It is one of the top five most download apps across smartphones and mobile platforms like iPhone, Android and BlackBerry according to Nielsen research with more than 50 million total mobile downloads.

It was launched on the Web in 2005 by Westergren and to date has raised more than $56.3 million through five rounds of funding according to TechCrunchwith backing from names like Greylock Partners, Hearst Interactive Media and Allen & Co.

Earlier this month sources told Reuters that Pandora has opened early conversations with bankers about a possible $100 million IPO . The company has declined to comment on any details of the potential offering.

Today In Music: Sony Music boss invests in start-up, fuels exit speculation

Doug Morris UMGSony Music Entertainment Rolf Schmidt-Holtz’s personal investment in Hamburg-based entertainment technology company TeVeo has sparked off speculation that his departure is imminent — which it almost certainly is, but not necessarily because of his investment.

As is well known by now, Schmidt-Holtz is very likely to leave Sony Music on March 31st when his contract expires after five years on the hotseat. He will be a partner in TeVeo following an investment, which was cleared by Sony, and is believed to be around 10 percent.  We’ve been told by a source that the investment and his likely departure in March are not linked.

So if he does leave what will that mean for Sony Music, still struggling to present a completely united front to the world since the 2004 merger between Sony Music and BMG Entertainment?