On this day in 2000, in one of the biggest media mergers in history, America Online Inc. announces plans to acquire Time Warner Inc. for some $182 billion in stock and debt. The result was a $350 billion mega-corporation, AOL Time Warner, which held dominant positions in every type of media, including music, publishing, news, entertainment, cable and the Internet.
The AOL Time Warner merger came at the height of the so-called “Internet bubble,” when dot-com businesses were on a meteoric rise and their future seemed limitless. The idea was to combine Time Warner’s impressive book, magazine, television and movie production capabilities with AOL’s 30 million Internet subscribers to form the ultimate media empire. Under the terms of the merger, which was cleared by the Federal Trade Commission in December 2000 and formally completed in January 2001, AOL shareholders owned 55 percent of the new company while Time Warner shareholders owned 45 percent. AOL’s co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer, Steve Case, became chairman of the new company, while Time Warner chairman and CEO Gerald Levin was named its CEO.
The potential windfall promised by the plan to sell Time Warner content through the AOL network never materialized, and when the Internet bubble burst in 2001, the company’s losses reached record proportions. Levin, widely blamed by shareholders for allowing Time Warner and its stable old-media assets to be effectively taken over and dragged down by the ailing new-media division, resigned in December 2001. He was replaced by Richard Parsons, a decision that later contributed to increasing internal tensions and the departure of chief operating officer Bob Pittman, who had been passed over in favor of Parsons.
In 2002, as investors pulled out en masse of many Internet-related stocks, AOL Time Warner reported a quarterly loss of $54 billion, the largest ever for a U.S. company. The following January, Case announced his resignation, and the company subsequently dropped the AOL from its name. With Parsons as its new chairman, Time Warner Inc. was able to recoup some of its momentum, but its stock prices continued to lag. In 2005-06, as pressure began to build for the company to break up into smaller divisions, the billionaire corporate raider Carl Icahn acquired a stake in the company and threatened to break it up in order to create better value for shareholders. He backed down only when Time Warner agreed to buy back some of its own stocks and cut costs.
In December 2007, Time Warner’s president, Jeffrey Bewkes, took over the chairmanship from Parsons, and began efforts to restructure the world’s largest media company.