Tough Questions, and a Question of Fair Use

Uneasy Questions

As reported in Silicon Alley Insider this week, Richard Greenfield, Managing Director of media investments for Pali Research, a fairly new addition to the brokerage firm Pali Capital, has some tough questions for Time Warner, making SAI writer Peter Kafka remark that “for understandable reasons, [they] are presumably no longer speaking to him”.

His toughest questions are for AOL, but his blog requires that you sign up with a corporate email address to read them. After I complained about it on the SAI blog, the requirement for a corporate email address was temporarily lifted, allowing me to create an account and copy Mr. Greenfield’s post for my personal records, but according to my email with him today, the corporate email address requirement is again in effect.

A Question of Fair Use

Mr. Greenfield is a controversial figure well-known for shooting down enthusiasm for several large media companies, including AOL. I enjoy his honest, no-holds-barred approach. In that spirit I emailed him for permission to reprint his 11 questions for AOL, but he refuses to give me, or SAI, for that matter, the go-ahead. So I looked up fair use laws. (I also told him to sue me.) I and many others might say (arguably) that his questions about AOL constitute the “most important” part of his post, so I’ll err on the side of caution and not reprint all of them. (If any copyright lawyers happen to catch this post, though, let me know what you think).

As Much As I Can Share For Now

Mr. Greenfield gave me and SAI permission to reprint short excerpts, so you’ll have to content yourselves with what I think are his top 5 questions for AOL (email me and I’ll give you more details).

[Mr. Greenfield’s] AOL Questions

  1. Why was TWX/AOL mgmt making bullish comments about AOL at the end of May/early June (specifically references the early success of their changes), only to severely miss expectations for Q2 and substantially reduce guidance for the rest of year only weeks after their last public
    comments about the businesses’ strength.
  2. Can you confirm the large upcoming layoffs at AOL? Given last year’s mass layoffs, is this now cutting into strength? What is the rationale for the layoffs – simply compensating for a lower advertising revenue outlook?
  3. Everyone seems to indicate that Ron Grant is essentially running AOL, therefore, what is Randy Falco actually doing? Specifics would be great (and btw, is Falco actually building an “executive” dining room down at AOL’s HQ?).
  4. Excluding the changes to the way Comscore tracks usage, are AOL’s page views actually increasing?
  5. Why is selling AOL not the right decision?

Mr. Greenfield also asks why AOL abandoned some remarkable changes made to search last October. The changes combined video, audio, and image results with the usual text results in a visually appealing format so that good results were easier to find. Yet they abandoned that undertaking in favor of Google’s default result pages earlier this year. No one seems to know why.

Google now uses similar technology to power selected result pages, but even I think that AOL did a much better, more visually appealing job of it with the same tools.

I would love to see TW’s answer to all of Mr. Greenfield’s questions, but answering such questions from anyone directly and forthrightly has never been AOL’s strong suit.

By the way, the dining room rumor mentioned above is true, according to another post from SAI.