May 17, 2011 / 2:27 AM / 8 years ago

AOL says no thanks to private equity

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Here’s one deal AOL won’t do: go private.

Tim Armstrong, AOL Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, speaks during the Reuters Global Technology Summit in New York, May 16, 2011. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

AOL Chief Executive Tim Armstrong struck down the idea that it would pursue a deal with private equity firms similar to the deal contemplated last fall that would have combined it with Yahoo.

“We are not focused on a private equity deal now,” AOL Chief Executive Tim Armstrong said during the Reuters Global Technology Summit in New York. “We are focused on a turnaround and we’re pretty excited about the business overall.”

Despite having been burned over the past decade on a string of deals gone sour — Bebo, purchased for $850 million, was sold for $10 million — the now independent company has been on a shopping spree. It has snapped up the popular news site Huffington Post and influential technology blog TechCrunch.

“We would opportunistically add more assets to the platforms that we thought would be really successful,” Armstrong said.

Last fall, AOL was in talks with several private equity firms to acquire Yahoo, contingent on Yahoo selling its prized Asian assets, which include a 40 percent stake in China’s Alibaba Group.

Relations between Yahoo and the Alibaba Group strained further last week over the sequence of events involving the transfer of one of Alibaba Group’s main assets, its online e-commerce payment system similar to eBay’s PayPal, Alipay.

AOL’s Armstrong said the company wants to remain independent.

Since taking the helm of the troubled AOL in April 2009 and overseeing a spin-out from Time Warner, Armstrong has been trying to shape the company into an online media and entertainment destination.

AOL is investing heavily in Patch, a local news network launched in more than 830 communities in the United States, and rolled out a professional division to attract government, energy and defense executives.

“I hope you don’t think we have done any ‘Hail Mary’s,’” Armstrong said, using a U.S. football phrase describing a last-ditch attempt to win a game. “Arianna’s company is the best social distributor of content, has some of the most addictive and obsessive content on the Internet.”

AOL bought the Huffington Post, launched by Arianna Huffington in 2005, for $315 million.

Dial-up access still represents roughly 40 percent of AOL’s revenue, and Armstrong said he has no plans to rid the company of that division.

“If we look at our vision of being highest quality, highest scale digital media player and brand advertising player, we have many of the components from a structural standpoint,” he said.

“We still have a rule of no ‘Hail Marys.’”

(This story was corrected to change Bebo purchase amount in fourth paragraph to $850 million, not billion)

Reporting by Jennifer Saba and Nadia Damouni; Editing by Gary Hill

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