AOL CEO Tim Armstrong took to the Times Center stage on Monday for a conversation with NBC's Stephanie Ruhle to discuss the current and future state of media through the lens of brand building—something the exec has made a name for himself doing during his seven-year tenure at the storied internet company.
Part of the 60-minute chat was about content-business acquisition, which wouldn't have been complete without addressing future buys. Ruhle suggested Twitter, the content behemoth with a monetization problem, would be a good project for Armstrong's team if parent Verizon could make the purchase. He didn't address the question, but he did defend the microblogging platform, saying its marketing is a lot better than it gets credit for, and it's actually the marketers who are behind.
"If you're a marketer, should you be upset that Twitter isn't up to snuff or should you be upset at yourself that you're not talking to consumers in real time?" he posited to the packed auditorium of brand execs and marketers. "I don't know that much about Twitter's ad program, but I do know that marketing real time might be a more effective use of getting consumer engagement."
The majority of the discussion was spent reviewing the entrepreneurial spirit of the brands in AOL's portfolio, including ones acquired during Armstrong's tenure like The Huffington Post, Makers and Build. Though, the conversation often turned toward the meatier issues facing the media world.
Unlike many of his media contemporaries, Armstrong isn't wringing his hands over the content creation explosion taking hold in the industry. Describing AOL as a "content company," Armstrong doesn't see Facebook and Google as posing a threat to brands like TechCrunch and HuffPo.
"People want to eat news everyday. People want a curated, trusted voice, and I think that's not going away," he said. "Do as much social media as you want, but at the end of the day, people want a trusted voice."
AOL's current iteration operates under the idea that content is king, and Armstrong clearly believes his platform is heir apparent. He even sees it as the solution for digital advertising, adding that the ad-tech world was responsible for the current dismal state of digital advertising.
"I think the industry got incredibly lazy—I think AOL got incredibly lazy—by not worrying about what they put in front of consumers, but worrying about the tech platforms behind those," he said. "I think it led to ad blocking, and AOL has to innovate ad formats. Consumers are really good at spending their time—they're better at spending their time than their money—and we should not be putting things in front of them that aren't great pieces of content."
Another of Armstrong's ad-tech prognostications is that, contrary to many media forecasts, online advertising will become more expensive in the future, owing this theory to the difficulties in unhooking the convenience provided by digital platforms—think recurring monthly Amazon order where a year's supply of brand products is decided with one click.