Could Yahoo's move away from media be AOL's big chance?

Jon Miller, ex-CEO of AOL, and Ross Levinsohn, Yahoo's former interim CEO, think Yahoo's new direction under Marissa Mayer could open up an opportunity for AOL.

Former Yahoo CEO Ross Levinsohn speaks during a Business Insider conference. Dan Farber/CNET
NEW YORK--Yahoo's new direction under CEO Marissa Mayer could be the big chance for AOL, a couple of former tech execs said today.

Ross Levinsohn, who served as interim Yahoo chief executive before Mayer's appointment, and Jon Miller, AOL's former CEO, said during a Business Insider conference in New York that Yahoo's shift away from becoming a media company in favor of focusing on its core tech offerings could be really lucky for AOL.

"It creates an opportunity for AOL I haven't seen for them in a number of years," said Miller, who served as chairman and CEO from AOL from 2002 to 2006.

AOL has expanded its media offerings, including by buying the Huffington Post last year. Yahoo, meanwhile, is focusing more on mail, search, and other more tech-focused areas, as well as making a bigger push in mobile.

Levinsohn joined Yahoo in late 2010 and ran its media sites for a while, among other positions at the company. He was appointed interim Yahoo chief executive after Scott Thompson was forced out earlier this year. Some believed Levinsohn would take on the top job permanently, but Yahoo instead surprised the market by choosing longtime Google executive Mayer . By selecting Mayer, Yahoo set itself on a path to become more tech-focused, rather than more media-focused as Levinsohn had planned.

Levinsohn said he "was pretty clear" about wanting to turn Yahoo into a media company with premium content and "more distinctive offerings." He said he still believes Yahoo is an amazing company that needs to "create something distinctive."

Levinsohn also noted that he's disappointed he didn't get the top job, but he doesn't have any bad feelings.

"Sure, I'd have loved the job," he said. "I feel disappointed I'm not sitting there, but I feel great about what I left."

Former AOL CEO Jon Miller speaks during a Business Insider conference. Dan Farber/CNET
Miller, meanwhile, contended that he still believes the right strategy for Yahoo is media, and that Levinsohn would have been a strong choice for CEO.

"He already knew the company," Miller said. "Still one of the big opportunities on the Web is who's going to figure out digital media."

Meanwhile, Miller, who spent some time working as News Corp.'s chief digital officer, said Rupert Murdoch considered buying a search company at one time but ultimately decided against it because of the high recurring costs for R&D.

"There's not a great enough appreciation in Silicon Valley for how hard it is to create good content," Miller said. "And there's not enough appreciation in Hollywood for how hard it is to create good technology."

Miller also said that Hulu has done a "great job" so far, but it still has some work to do and needs the support of its owners to become even more successful. He added that it's unclear if Hulu CEO Jason Kilar will stick around, but "he actually really loves what he's doing."

 

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