The recent forced resignation of Steve Case from AOL Time Warner has been portrayed as just desserts for hijacking the traditional media conglomerate. This is sensible. After all, investors have paid a stiff penalty for the merger just two years old; the joint company's stock price have spiraled downward 70 percent. And there is little sign of recovery in the immediate future.
But the full effects of such a dramatic undertaking cannot be measured overnight. Some savvy analysts are already predicting a long-term revival that will reveal Case for the genius he is. There is no doubt the AOL Time Warner saga isn't over. The question remains: What significance does this have in our lives? I suggest plenty now and more on the way.
With more than 35 million subscribers, AOL is the largest Internet Service Provider in the world. It's closest rivals in sheer headcount, Microsoft Network (MSN) and Earthlink, aren't even in the same ballpark. And despite the company's stock price, AOL subscribers do not appear to be going anywhere. On the contrary, AOL remains the first choice of Web novices. For better or worse, the company's pre-packaged service and simplicity of setup enable millions of new people to join the Internet revolution every year.
What's most interesting about the recent shakeup is that it finalizes the cleansing of AOL Tim Warner's leadership of anyone from the "new media." Former executives of Time Warner have once again seized control. Don't take me for a fan of AOL. The company's offerings always seemed overly branded to the point of limiting. Case himself appeared as boring as the service. But at least he had a conscience (having donated hundreds of millions to charities).
Will we be able to say the same for our new leading information providers?
I somehow doubt it. The news directed our way online will match that which is
broadcast over the airwaves: lockstep corporate propaganda aimed at promoting
obedience. We will live to see Case's own prophecy fulfilled:
"...in the long run, if you look at 10, 15 years, I do think people will look back and have a different cut on this merger."