Techcrunch Sells To Aol But Can Media Start Ups Thrive In Big Media Companies

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Eric E. Schmidt, Europe, Michael Arrington, Patrick Smith, TechCrunch, The Guardian, TheMediaBriefing Experts' Blog, United States of America, Yahoo!, AOL, Google, Digital Media, Newspapers

Another independent digital publishing start-up has taken the big corporate buy-out option and joined the ranks of Big Media.TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington has signed a deal to hand over his company to AOL for an undisclosed fee (it's safe to say it's in the "many millions" category). The deal was announced at TC's own TechCrunch Disrupt conference, somewhat overshadowing the scheduled speakers, including Google's Eric Schmidt. There's a short "blog post" from AOL CEO Tim Armstrong on TechCrunch which has the press release.

TC as business has evolved from a single blog to a successful, multi-faceted media company, with sites covering Europe, mobile, gadgets and green technology. Not to mention a genuinely successful events business with tentacles stretching across America and Europe; it has become the organiser of start-up/VC panels and conferences.

And don't forget CrunchBase which is a very valuable resource in the tech space of companies, deals and people.

Just like when paidContent was bought by Guardian News & Media in 2008, media reports had it that GNM had "bought a blog", which isn't even nearly correct. The Guardian bought a respected media site with not one but four well-respected sites, some sales staff, some events people and crucial foothold in the US media market it so dearly wants to crack. AOL too is buying a lot more than a blog, whatever that word means these days.

But will it work?

Will gun-slinging Mike Arrington be able to run his sites in the same way, shooting from the hip with controversial opinions on everything and everyone? He even broached the subject live on stage, sat on a sofa with Armstrong:

"Can I still say whatever I want, is that part of the deal?" he asked. "We want you to do whatever it is that has made you successful so far," replied Armstrong.

Arrington, in his typically gruff, couldn't-care-less manner, had just sarcastically answered "yes" to a question from the conference floor of whether the deal was an attempt to annoy Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz. The Yahoo boss famously told Arrington to "fuck off" during a far from cosy "fireside chat" live interview at a TC event earlier this year.

So here are two questions. 1) Would you want to manage Arrington? Would you like to tell him to tone down his robust style or suggest that one or two things on his sites aren't quite right? Then there's the problem of somehow integrating AOL's existing tech sites like Engadget into a cohesive portfolio with shared goals.

And 2) If you were Arrington, would you want to be managed? He said somewhat obliquely while making the announcement that he would stick around with AOL for "three years", without elaborating - so questions already surrounding his committment to his parent company, with the ink not yet dry on the deal.

Arrington's determination and the brand he's built is not in doubt. At a time when AOL is shrinking its staff across the world, this could be a very good deal for the buyer. But whether Arrington will be happy as a cog in a wider machine, remains to be seen

Disclosure: I worked for paidContent as its UK correspondent until December 2009 and I have contributed to TechCrunch Europe.

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