In the second season of BoJack Horseman, it’s revealed that the pop culture magazine Manatee Fair (get it?) is owned by a sprawling media conglomerate called AOL–Time Warner–PepsiCo-Viacom-Halliburton-Skynet-Toyota–Trader Joe’s. In the real world, this company goes by a simpler name: Verizon.
The wireless carrier was the winner in the contest to finally put Yahoo out of its misery, acquiring the fading internet giant for $4.8 billion. On the one hand, paying billions of dollars for Yahoo in 2016 sounds about as forward-looking as buying AOL for $4.4 billion (which Verizon also did, but we’ll get to that). The only person who still uses Yahoo email is your mom because you set up an account for her in 2002, right? Yahoo Answers is an elaborate piece of performance art about the amorphous nature of truth in the digital age, right? GeoCities died off two Web-point-0s ago … right?
Actually, for all its failings, Yahoo is still one of the biggest internet companies in the world, a member of the vaunted billion-user club with Facebook and Google (though Yahoo’s billion-user claim is a bit of a cheat as it cobbles together users of a variety of products). Yahoo.com attracts more visitors than Wikipedia, Twitter, and Reddit, according to Alexa. The company also claims 600 million mobile monthly users.
That level of scale is highly enticing to Verizon, which in recent years has made a Bold Pivot to create Compelling Internet Content for the Mobile-First Generation (here is a strange list of properties Verizon now at least partially owns: The Huffington Post, Complex Media, Millennial Media, TechCrunch, Tumblr, AwesomenessTV, Flickr, Rivals.com, Katie Couric). With smartphone adoption reaching a saturation point in the United States and pay-TV growth screeching to a halt, the telco giant is looking for new revenue sources. And there’s pretty much no better way to create the illusion of growth in 2016 than by publishing ungodly amounts of Content.
With Yahoo (theoretically) continuing to attract a massive number of eyeballs, Verizon will make money on those visitors thanks to its purchase of AOL and a soul-crushing invention called “programmatic ad-buying technology.” Basically, AOL gives Verizon the ability to serve lots and lots of targeted ads on lots and lots of web pages. Like Spirited Away’s No-Face, there may be no satiating the telco now that it’s gotten a taste for Content — ’90s Content, in particular. So, what’s Verizon going to snatch up for its Web 1.0 revolution next?
The media company has been collecting early-web flotsam for the better part of a decade. IAC bought the search engine Ask Jeeves (now Ask.com) for $1.85 billion in 2005. Later, it spent $300 million on About.com, the world’s most popular website for halfheartedly researching New Year’s resolutions. Acquiring two stalwart ’90s relics with a single acquisition would be a boon — Verizon would be like the kid who got Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue for Christmas ’98.
In addition to precious Content, this deal would give Verizon ownership of Tinder, OkCupid, and Match.com, which (prepare for disillusionment) are all owned by IAC. It’s not totally clear how much synergy could be built among dating apps and Verizon’s other properties, but where there’s a corporate will, there’s a way — maybe serve up HuffPo dating tips after a user strikes out on a dozen right swipes.
Cost: IAC’s market cap is $4.8 billion, so we’ll round up to a cool $5 billion.
Of the hundreds of companies felled by Google’s ascendance, MapQuest is one of the easiest to root for. The company began as a Chicago-based cartography firm in the 1960s that issued free maps at gas stations, and later launched the free online service MapQuest in 1996. In its heyday, MapQuest was one of the most useful services online, reducing the psychological warfare waged between road trip drivers and navigators by at least half. A modernized, mobile MapQuest could be a useful place for Verizon to sell location-based ads.
Cost: Free! AOL actually bought MapQuest for $1.1 billion in 2000, which means Verizon acquired it during last year’s AOL acquisition. Chances are the service has been relegated to the same junk drawer as AOL’s dial-up internet customers, though, so Verizon could dust the brand off and give a solid go of competing with Google and Apple.
We all know that the digital world revolves around the coveted 18-to-34 demographic, but there are plenty of other age groups out there waiting to be monetized. Enter Legacy.com. The obituary website attracts 40 million visitors worldwide per month to read dedications for both loved ones and celebrities like Muhammad Ali.
Verizon owning an obituary service is no more or less arbitrary than Verizon now owning Rivals.com. So why not? We here at The Ringer are already prepared to license one timely obit to the website.
Cost: Bloomberg reports Legacy.com’s annual revenue at as much as $100 million, so somewhere north of that.
Internet denizens of a certain age have all had this stray thought at some point or another, which they are careful to never probe too deeply: Why the fuck was I so into Neopoets for like two months? The website, launched in 1999, allowed kids to raise virtual pets and earn digital currency by playing ad-heavy Flash games. There wasn’t much of a point to it besides the satisfaction of seeing a make-believe animal on a screen feign happiness. Maybe Neopets is what primed us to get a dopamine rush from Facebook likes.
If Pokémon Go is any indication, millennials are more than willing to grab hold of any nostalgic life raft in a sea of political and social upheaval. Put the Neopets in a catch-’em-all augmented-reality game. Give them a YouTube show. Infiltrate the tween networks on Tumblr and pass the game off as the new, hip thing. The animals are cuddly, addictive, and faintly unsettling, which makes them perfectly primed for a 2016 resurgence.
Cost: Our last hope of remaining socially and politically engaged in these trying times.