A Real Disruption: AOL Acquires TechCrunch

TechCrunch Disrupt opened this week with the much-ado about nothing known as AngelGate. But the real disruption at this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt isn’t due to supposed cabal like meetings by Super Angel investors in Silicon Valley. The real disruption comes courtesy of AOL who announced its purchase of TechCrunch.

Om Malik of GigaOM first broke the pending acquisition. Om’s take was generally positive pointing out that AOL has long been content focused and already owns a group of respectable niche blogs like Endgadget and Massively.

What is crucial to note is the majority of sites in AOL’s portfolio are product focused. Such a focus plays well with TechCrunch’s current editorial mix when it comes to startups and new product announcements.

But what about when it comes to the opinion pieces TechCrunch is so famous for?

There are a lot of adjectives I think of when it comes to TechCrunch and “meek” isn’t one of them.

Love him or hate him, Michael Arrington has carved out his fame, and TechCrunch’s standing in the industry, through obtuse belligerence with little regard to what “real journalists”, his advertisers, or even his own readership thinks; commonly using TechCrunch as a bully pulpit. What his opinion pieces lacked in subtlety they often made up for in self-righteous vigor attacking poor service and unethical behavior with equal aplomb.

This is not to imply that Arrington is the only distinct voice at TechCrunch. Writers like MG Siegler and Jason Kincaid also managed to put their personality into TechCrunch’s DNA through expressing their own voices.

So the question is:  Can AOL keep TechCrunch’s voice intact? Will AOL allow the type of knee-jerk pissing contests that spawned AngelGate? How quickly would AOL’s legal team fall all over themselves to keep Arrington, or any other writer on their payroll for that matter, from casually spewing all over Dave McClure (someone Arrington considers a friend, mind you)? Just imagine the legal red tape Arrington would have had to jump through to publish his Scamville pieces, which were excellent examples of investigative journalism, under AOL’s management.

More than the heartburn Arrington is likely to give AOL’s legal department, the key to how this will play out is the advertisers.

AOL owns Endgadget and Massively not because they are interested in the gadget or gaming community but because they are interested in leveraging the content for their advertisers. As mentioned earlier, it is already clear that Arrington doesn’t care what his advertisers think.

Combined pressure from their advertisers and their legal counsel will cause AOL to eventually try and rein him in, even if his attack rants do drive more traffic than his actual research pieces. AOL will do the same for all the current writers. Even if they claim they won’t tamper with TechCrunch’s current model, as AOL CEO Tim Armstrong indicated, the move to rein editorial in will be inevitable.

And let’s face it a voice that inspires angry mocking puppets can’t be reined in. For better or for worse TechCrunch’s editorial content will change and a leading voice in our industry will be disrupted.

About Angel Djambazov

Born in Bulgaria, Angel Djambazov has spent his professional career in the fields of journalism and online marketing. In his journalistic career he worked as an editor on several newspapers and was the founding Editor-in-Chief of Wyoming Homes and Living Magazine. Later his career path led to online marketing where while working at OnlineShoes he earned the Affiliate Manager of the Year (2006) award at the Affiliate Summit, and In-house Manager of the Year (2006) award by ABestWeb.

For four years Angel served as OPM for Jones Soda for which he won his second Affiliate Manger of the Year (2009) award at Affiliate Summit.

Currently Angel serves as OPM for KEEN Footwear and MedicalRecords.com. His former clients include: Dell, Real Networks, Jones Soda, Intelius, Graphicly, Chrome Bags, Onlineshoes.com, Vitamin Angels, The Safecig, and Bag Borrow or Steal.

Angel is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher for ReveNews.com and ReveNews.org.

Angel lives north of Seattle, spending his free time reading up on obscure scientific references made by his wife MGX, while keeping up with a horde of cats and a library of books.

You can find Angel on Twitter @djambazov.

4 Responses to A Real Disruption: AOL Acquires TechCrunch

  1. Excellent summary and conclusion, Angel. I couldn't agree more.

  2. @djambazov says:

    Thanks Geno. Arrington spoke about the future of TechCrunch in a post tonight: http://techcrunch.com/2010/09/28/why-we-sold-tech

    He says he was tired, "semi-retired" and that Armstrong's offer came at the right time and with the promise that the editorial integrity would not be touched. Lots of great sound bites, putting just the right spin on it.

    I can't help but think of it all as a death knell. As soon as the advertisers cry foul, AOL's legal team will neuter TechCrunch.

  3. @sandmangirl says:

    I am doubtful this will be good in the end for opinions online, how many more news organizations/ blogs can be bought up and compromised before people are alarmed. This worries me, I don't buy for a minute that TechCrunch will be the same. Of course, I don't like Arrington or his opinions, but I like the other staff and it's a shame to see their venue disappear. It'll be interesting to see what they make of themselves after they leave TC, because you know it's inevitable that they will.

  4. Pat Grady says:

    "As soon as the advertisers cry foul, AOL's legal team will neuter TechCrunch."
    I concur, but would add that advertisers are just the tip of the iceberg.

    Wondering… can I simultaneously use the phrase "sell out" as a melancholy thanks-for-tanking-an-indie-voice insult and a capitalistic congratulation?

    Ol' two face needs some coffee… hasta.