You know what's

really

the most interesting thing about this

America Online

(AOL)

acquisition of

Time Warner

(TWX)

?

Wait a minute -- "acquisition"? Not "merger"? Sure. We're big boys and girls, and we can tell the truth. Even AOL honcho

Steve Case

slipped a little yesterday at the AOL-Time Warner press conference. "What we paid for Time Warner," he said. This was a

business deal

, not yet another salute to the patrimony of

Henry Luce

. And we can assume that Time Warner management, at least, went into this sale enthusiastically.

AOL-Time Warner merger: Join the discussion on our

message boards.

Heck, even

Ted Turner

, who seems to have a pretty visceral appreciation for life, said yesterday that he signed the deal papers with more enthusiasm than anything he'd done since the first time he had sex.

But that isn't what this column is about. At least, not exactly.

Because what I think is most interesting here is how this deal turns our perceptions of worth completely upside down in the Net arena.

For a year or more, we've heard a constant drumbeat of comments on Wall Street that before long, all the big media companies would want to, maybe even have to, pick up a Web outfit.

That's always how it was phrased: They'd "pick up" a Web company. You know, kinda like "Honey, on the way home, will you pick up a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk?"

Pick up.

It demeaned the Web business and specific Web companies thought to be potential targets. And it reinforced, clumsily, the Street's disdain for Net companies.

But what happened yesterday? Poor little old AOL, which a year ago in a deal like this would have been the acquired, not the acquirer, and would have represented maybe 35% of the resulting equity in a deal, bought Time Warner.

AOL came out very much on top, in equity, management slots, publicity -- and more.

Think about what this means for other possible media-Net deals. I mentioned

yesterday the fit I saw between

General Electric's

(GE) - Get Report

NBC

Net units -- now combined into

NBCi

-- plus the network operations, and the "O-and-Os" (the owned-and-operated local stations) and

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

.

The natural, traditional way of thinking about that kind of deal is that GE would spin off those assets into a new company, through which it would acquire and fold in Yahoo!.

Forget that. If Yahoo! is involved in a big media company deal these days, it's gonna be the acquirer.

Or consider the possibility of

Microsoft's

(MSFT) - Get Report

MSN

picking up -- see, I can do it, too! --

NBCi

(NBCI)

. MSN's the survivor there; it just keeps the NBCi brands for brand-equity reasons.

Or, in what may be the most likely -- and maybe the most arresting -- of these deals, what happens if

Disney

(DIS) - Get Report

and Yahoo! get together? Is it conceivable, even remotely conceivable, that Disney would be, would let itself be, acquired ... by Yahoo!?

The market caps support it -- with Yahoo! at about $110 billion and Disney at $75 billion. Stock-price movement certainly supports it -- with Disney flat to wobbly since its mid-1998 split, while Yahoo! is up more than 10 times since then.

But ego? Market perceptions? Reality?

Tim? Michael? Hello?

I hope that isn't a problem. Combine Disney's movie, music, TV (

ABC

,

ESPN

) and other assets with Yahoo!'s Web stature and immense reach, and you have a dynamite new-media company indeed.

The market might not like the move at first in terms of stock price. Just as some drew parallels yesterday between fast-growing AOL's acquisition of slow-growing Time Warner and highflying

Qwest's

(Q)

acquisition last year of the sluggish regional Bell operating company,

U S West

(USW)

, market seers would inevitably ask whether hitching shooting star Yahoo! to stuck-in-the-doldrums Disney wasn't a mistake.

(And some, no doubt, would worry about the potential synergies of a Yahoo!-Disney deal -- for about five seconds.)

I'm not predicting that any of these deals are going to happen. Yet.

In fact, from Yahoo!'s perspective, it would be better to wait another year before making such an acquisition. Its currency -- its stock price -- would be a lot more valuable, making the acquisition cheaper. And it might be a lot nearer the end of its shooting-star growth cycle and psychologically ready to accept the notion of dilution by a Disney.

But it is interesting to note that, in the wake of AOL's buyout of Time Warner, talking about media companies or other mainstream companies "picking up" a Web company is obsolete thinking.

Those big, older companies know

they're

the pick-up targets, as of yesterday.

Open Forum

Post your questions about AOL's acquisition of Time Warner on our

message boards. I'll be there at 5 p.m. ET to answer questions on the deal.

Jim Seymour is president of Seymour Group, an information-strategies consulting firm working with corporate clients in the U.S., Europe and Asia, and a longtime columnist for PC Magazine. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. At time of publication, Seymour was long Qwest, although holdings can change at any time. Seymour does not write about companies that are current or recent consulting clients of Seymour Group. While Seymour cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites your feedback at

jseymour@thestreet.com.

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