It turns out that
didn't sell its soul to Old Media after all. At his appearance Monday at the
Robertson Stephens Tech Week '00
, Ted Leonsis, president of AOL's interactive-property group, proved that he didn't have to dance with the devil to get
media and cable holdings.
Leonsis showed no sign of scorched palms, cloven hooves or a scaly tail. Grabbing his own box-lunch upstairs at the Sheraton Palace Hotel (the ballroom dining spots filled up on opening day) Leonsis -- a.k.a. "Mr. Creative" -- insists that AOL retains its cuddly side even as it continues to take over the world.
Warm and fuzzy, sure, but Leonsis still proves his ability to make audience's jaws drop and competitors' stomachs queasy, thanks to the fact that he has scored a few dozen more killer media names to drop.
Leonsis has maintained a consistent style in pitching AOL over the years. He ignores such bottom-line issues as churn, marketing budgets or competition. He's not afraid of the topics, he just wants to make sure you'll get the value of AOL.
Forget the critics, says Ted. Think, he says, about 21 million paid subscribers who get on AOL for 65 minutes each day -- compared to the eight- or nine-minute figure he quotes for
. Consider the 100 million consumers reached by the extended AOL family that includes the AIM and ICQ instant-messaging networks -- real-time person-to-person chat, for those of you who've staved off the addiction.
Leonsis drills AOL's value into your skull like a New Age version of the "Full Metal Jacket" boot-camp instructor. What's our advantage, maggot? "Brands, brands and more brands, sir!" And how are we going to take over the world and break the backs of other entertainment options? "Brands, brands and more brands, sir!" Then he starts hitting
with bars of soap in a pillowcase.
AOL's been on the acquisition trail for some time, giving Leonsis an endless list of user numbers on his roll call.
-- AOL has sunk its combat boots into every fuzzy little corner of the convergence world. Monday was no exception, as Leonsis discussed wireless deals made with
for AOL Wireless service,
for use of AOL's Instant Messenger platform,
two-way AOL-branded paging device and, finally,
Research In Motion's
AOL-branded wireless devices.
Make that Wireless Domination, over easy, served with two slices of dry toast and the hearts and livers of those AOL skeptics who said for three years in a row that a paid service was lame!
Nonetheless, it is the Time Warner brands that give Leonsis' traditional delivery the over-the-top quality it's been missing: the top 35 titles in the 18,000-strong magazine world;
international reach (to help airlift AOL's online service into worldwide markets);
artists (to put on Spinner.com); AOL's Digital Cities (to give Time Warner a local-content arm); entertainment such as
and the Harry Potter books (to plaster across all of the AOL-Time Warner media channels).
"We're touching 2.5 billion consumers a day," Leonsis says. That doesn't appear to include Satan, by the way.
Leonsis predicted 15% annual revenue growth for the $40 billion company, and 30% annual growth in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, otherwise known as cash flow. AOL will tap into the conversion of American consumers to DVD. AOL will launch
: "It's not like
; wipe that from your mind," Leonsis warns. Instead, think of TV watchers sending their friends instant messages during shows. "The
is right down the strike zone of ICQ's demographic," Leonsis says.
Speaking of WebTV, which Microsoft owns, the software giant received Leonsis' only taunts -- maybe because picking on
is a little silly at this point. It seems that all those $400 MSN rebates and browser battles meant to crush AOL won't easily be forgotten by the former online service and current media juggernaut. In fact, it seems AOL has become the Internet empire
was looking to create three to four years ago with
Leonsis hammered home the point that it will be AOL's users, not Microsoft's, who tack on content, TV, Internet telephony and other services to their online service bills. And he didn't have to give up control to do it. But if he wants to get AOL's user stats up from one hour to several, well, he may have to make that fiery pact after all. Good luck, Ted.
Tish Williams' column takes at look at the people who make Silicon Valley tick. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, she doesn't own or short individual stocks, although she does own stock options in TheStreet.com. She also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. She waits breathlessly for your feedback at