Arianna Huffington and AOL CEO Tim Armstrong appeared jointly Tuesday at John Battelle's Signal LA: The Content Marketing Conversation presented by Federated Media.
Their appearance followed Sunday's announcement that AOL has agreed to acquire the Huffington Post, and that Huffington will become President and Editor-in-Chief of the newly-formed Huffington Post Media Group.
Armstrong described the move as a "laser-focused, right-up-the-middle content play for us" and added that, from an earnings perspective, the $315 million price tag made the acquisition a "very reasonable deal."
Huffington explained that she convinced the Huffington Post board to approve the acquisition — without an auction or shopping the site around — because AOL's culture meant it would be "the best home" for the Huffington Post.
As far as integrating Huffington Post content with AOL's existing properties, Huffington said the current plan is "putting engagement over all the AOL sections...making sure the news is increasingly social" and leveraging AOL's Patch to "reinvent local journalism."
Huffington emphasized, though, the the Huffington Post sees issues "beyond left and right," and that no political agenda would be coming to AOL content.
"I have really spent a large part of the last three years talking about the need to move beyond this left-right division, and that in fact most of the issues we are addressing cannot be easily divided," Huffington said. "Whether they say we challenged the teachers unions...or promoted Ted Olson's support of gay marriage or George Will on Afghanistan, that has been a big thrust of our campaign."
"I think the political thing is a red herring," Armstrong said. "Our interest in buying the Huffington Post was about their social content and where the future's going from distribution. And also, frankly, Arianna's TLC around the content space and I think that's hard to argue against. The press loves to write about the political fact here, but there's a bigger fact which is the business fact, which is Huffington Post was one of the fastest-growing large-scale content properties with a great brand on the web....We're not going to do anything to disrupt the AOL audience that we've had for 25 years and we're not going to do anything to ruin the Huffington Post audience."
Armstrong said he expects the integration to be completed within 45 days, on both the content side and the sales side, and that the finished product will be "great for consumers and great for advertisers." Huffington added that "cause marketing is going to be a bigger and bigger part of advertising."
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