Deadlines and connections

I’m not involved in the the corporate wrangling about Microsoft and Yahoo! talks. Which leaves me relatively free to comment on it. [Disclosure: I am, not too surprisingly, a Yahoo! shareholder.]

Lots of things have been happening lately. A deadline of, well, today. Talks of Google adsense trials. And all kinds of merger speculation involving Rupert Murdoch in some fashion, or else AOL.

But I haven’t seen anyone point out this connection: Google owns 5% of AOL, having invested a billion bucks and taken over search there a couple of years ago. So if Yahoo! and AOL merged, there would already be a Google advertising connection in place. Running pre-trials now is just due dilligence on something that might happen anyway.

Having both an in-house advertising network and an outsourced one has some advantages too, namely in the form of “knobs” that can be adjusted to tune margins as conditions warrant. And maintaining the in-house system keeps Google honest and makes sure that relatively good deals can be negotiated in the future.

Lots of pundits talk about regulatory scrutiny, but honestly, it’s been years since any antitrust machinery in this country has been effective. And the recent spectrum auctions showcased Google’s skill at turning regulatory tables in their favor. If it came down to it, the smart people on both sides of the table shouldn’t have a problem crafting an agreement in a way that meets muster, even in the stricter EU.

Summary: based solely on public reports, it seems like the AOL connection might be a credible threat to Microsoft’s appetite. The ball is firmly in Steve’s court now. We’ll see what he does.

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