Time Warner Mulls Sale of U.S. AOL Access Business
Time Warner, the world's largest media company, will "look hard" in the next 12 to 18 months at possibly selling off its AOL dial-up Internet access business after doing the same in Europe.
Chief Executive Richard Parsons, who is under pressure from Wall Street to boost his company's sluggish stock, said Tuesday breaking off the U.S. access business would be difficult as it continues to contribute to traffic at AOL.com.
"It's much more complicated here than in Europe," he told investors at the Goldman Communacopia media conference, in response to a moderator's question about selling off pieces of Time Warner.
The company has explored selling off AOL in the past, amid belief among some on Wall Street that Time Warner was worth more broken apart than together. Parsons said the company would take a hard look at the issue in the next 12 to 18 months.
Amputating a declining Internet access business, which accounted for nearly three-quarters of AOL's 2006 revenue, underscores Time Warner's current strategy for a unit that was restructured last year.
AOL now offers most of its services for free to focus on boosting advertising sales both on AOL.com and across the Web through its third-party online advertising networks.
AOL said Monday it would realign its advertising business to create a third-party online advertising network powerhouse as marketers are looking to advertise across the Web rather than focus budgets on any one portal such as AOL.com.
The company also announced Monday plans to move the online division's headquarters from Dulles, Virginia, to New York, the U.S. advertising capital, to focus on building its ad network.
Some investors and Wall Street analysts have called for the sale or spin-off of AOL, a complete divestiture of Time Warner Cable, and the sale of its publishing company, from which half its name is derived, as a way to resuscitate its sluggish stock price.
The stock has fallen about 11% in the past three months, before closing up 2.3% at $18.66 on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday amid a broad rally after a Fed interest rate cut.
Parsons said over time, he saw the complete split-off of its cable division as a possibility. Although in the fast-changing market, he said it was unclear when a complete split would occur.
Time Warner spun off a Time Warner Cable stake this year, giving the division its own public shares to make acquisitions easier to complete, and now owns about 84%.
As for AOL, Parsons said: "The focus right now is let's see if we can build it."
Addressing calls for a breakup of Time Warner, he said, "We would like to see if the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, which I believe it to be."