AOL bets big on $315m buyout of Huffington Post
Media giant AOL said that it had agreed to buy US internet newspaper The Huffington Post for $315m (£195m) in a bold bet on the future of online news.
The deal - which will see its two co-founders, Arianna Huffington and Kenneth Lerer, net the lion's share of the windfall - comes at a time when news groups are still struggling to turn online news into a viable business.
In the UK, The Times newspaper recently started to charge for use of its website, while other outlets continue to reproduce the full newspaper content online for free.
AOL's purchase, led by chief executive Tim Armstrong, who was brought in to revamp the company in 2009, shows large news organisations are still prepared to back online news with significant investment.
As part of the $315m acquisition, AOL unloaded $300m in cash - plus another $30m cash to cover expenses. That's more than 40% of the $802m in cash that AOL had on hand at the end of last year.
The Huffington Post was set up in 2005 as an exclusively online newspaper and blog.
After launching local versions in 2008 for cities such as Chicago and New York, it soared in popularity and counts President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Madonna and Bill Gates among its guest writers.
The website now covers politics, business, showbiz and sport, and has nearly 25m unique monthly visitors.
Greek-born Ms Huffington (60) the editor-in-chief of the centre-left newspaper, will head up the newly formed Huffington Post Media Group, which will merge all Huffington and AOL content.
The Huffington Post will remain at the same web address.
AOL said the new group will have a combined base of 117m users a month in the US, and 270m worldwide.
In a joint statement, Ms Huffington, an economics graduate of Cambridge University, said: "This is truly a merger of visions and a perfect fit for us.
"The Huffington Post will continue on the same path we have been on for the last six years, though now at light speed, by combining with AOL."
Mr Armstrong, a former Google executive, wants to pull in internet surfers to AOL's websites in a bid to boost online advertising sales.
He said: "The acquisition of The Huffington Post will create a next-generation American media company with global reach that combines content, community, and social experiences for consumers."
The board of directors and shareholders of The Huffington Post have approved the deal, but it is subject to regulatory approvals and is expected to close in late March to early April.
AOL has one of the online industry's largest advertising networks and operates a premium subscription-based access service in the United States.
Twenty-five years ago, the company was known as Quantum Computer Services and launched its first instant messenger service in 1989.
Then known as America Online, the firm made history in 2005 by becoming the first internet company to win an Emmy.
The next year, it officially changed its name to AOL and began offering content and services free of charge.
Over the next three years, AOL launched new content sites totaling more than 80 sites by 2009. Later that year, AOL Inc became an independent, publicly-traded company.
Last month AOL Europe announced that it had acquired the video distribution network goviral, which distributes branded video content across the internet.
The network goviral has confirmed that it will retain its offices in the UK, Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden and Spain.
Its current video content distribution network includes more than 18,000 publishers.