Verizon's Media Failure Is Complete As Company Eyes AOL/Yahoo Sale

from the bumblin'-and-stumblin' dept

Back in 2014, Verizon decided it wanted to get into the media business. So it launched a website dubbed "Sugarstring." It didn't go very well. The website immediately gained attention for the fact that Verizon informed new journalist hires that they couldn't write about surveillance or net neutrality, two subjects Verizon is intimately involved in. The backlash was immediate, employees realized it was a shitshow and headed for the exits, and the whole thing was quickly shut down. But it was a good indication of what was to come.

Years later, Verizon moved on to an equally ill-fated effort, the acquisitions of both AOL (bought for $4.4 billion in 2015) and Yahoo (bought for $4.48 billion in 2017). Apparently, the executive brain trust at Verizon thought it would be a great idea to buy two sharply declining 90's media brands and mush them together, hoping this would allow them to magically elbow in on the Google ad revenues they'd coveted for so long. Of course that didn't go particularly well either.

There was the huge Yahoo hack, a massive privacy scandal where Verizon was busted modifying wireless data packets to track them around the internet without telling them (whoops!), and then of course the face plant by Go90, Verizon's attempt to rebrand itself as a sexy, Millennial-friendly streaming video service. Despite making a great stink about rebranding its AOL/Yahoo media and ad empire "Oath," by late 2018 Verizon was forced to acknowledge the whole thing was effectively worthless.

In 2019, Verizon wound up selling Tumblr to WordPress owner Automattic at a massive loss after a rocky ownership stretch. Last year it offloaded the Huffington Post. And this week, somebody leaked word to the press that Verizon was finally considering selling the whole mess, now creatively dubbed "Verizon Media Group":

"Verizon Communications Inc. is considering selling its media division, according to people familiar with the matter, as the telecommunications giant seeks to unload once high-flying dot-com brands such as Yahoo! and AOL. The company is talking to Apollo Global Management Inc. about a deal, they said. It couldn’t immediately be learned how a deal would be structured or if other suitors may emerge.

While whoever leaked word of the sale suggests the deal could come in around $5 billion, given the history of these assets I'd say it's probably a good bet the final sale figure could be dramatically less. Even calling Yahoo and AOL "once high-flying dot-com brands" seems generous in the TikTok, Facebook era. Verizon will now slink back to its core competences: running and building networks, and lobbying the federal government to prevent broadband competition.

As we've long noted, companies like AT&T and Verizon have spent the better part of a generation as government-pampered, natural monopolies. As such, creativity, competition, innovation, and adaptation are alien constructs. They're just not built for the kind of competition you see in markets like adtech or short-form online video. And when they do try to compete, that usually involves throwing money at often mindless acquisitions (see AT&T's $200 billion TV sector face plant). But despite billions of dollars, an ocean of regulatory favors, and endless hype, the end result has been a massive parade of stumbles.

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Filed Under: advertising, failures, media
Companies: aol, verizon, yahoo

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  1. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 30 Apr 2021 @ 5:21am

    HBO Max's terrible customer service

    Here is the feedback they replied to:

    I’ll respond to each individual question, one by one:

    > To better assist, please respond with the following information:

    > The devices you're experiencing difficulties with (model numbers would be especially helpful)

    The Model # is "MQAV2LL/A”. This is the model according to . That is, the model is an iPhone X.

    > Are other devices giving you the same trouble?

    No, this issue is solely isolated to the iOS app for my iPhone X. Oh, and just so you know, I tested the issue on the HBO Max app on the 7th Gen iPad (which is model # “MW752LL/A”) and there was no pillarboxing for Labyrinth, another movie that has the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, so this is more or less an issue that has to do with the 2.39:1 aspect ratio of the iPhone X and the HBO Max iOS app’s inability to conform to those specifications (which could be easily solved by allowing the user to zoom in, as I see it).

    > I recommend giving this a try if you haven't already.
    A screenshot or picture of the error.

    I tried to take a screen-capture of the HBO Max problem, but unfortunately, the picture turned all black (probably due to the copy protection of the app). That being said, I was able to record a small clip of my iPhone X playing the HBO Max app with the 2.39:1 movies being both letterboxed and pillarboxed, and I have attached the video file in the email.

    > We also suggest uninstalling HBO Max, restarting the device, then reinstalling the HBO Max application on that device to see if that resolves the error.

    I tried that but it didn’t solve the problem at all.

    I hope I provided you with more information.

    Thank you,

    Samuel Abram

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