AOL's Gillis: Verizon 'a tool in the toolbox' for media pursuits

Sign outside a Verizon Wireless store
Like its rival AT&T, Verizon is moving quickly—if not quite as aggressively—into media in an effort to counter glacially slow growth in the traditional U.S. wireless market.

Matt Gillis has been around the wireless business long enough to see Google and Apple wrest control of the content market from the network operators that once owned the segment.

But don't try telling AOL Platforms’ senior vice president and head of global publisher platforms that carriers have failed to capitalize on media.

“I would never say carriers have failed,” Gillis said in an interview at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, this week. “I would say the carriers’ place in the ecosystem has evolved.”

There’s no question that operators have seen their place in the value chain shift since the launch of the first iPhone ten years ago. Service providers once controlled the mobile content market thanks to the carrier deck, but Apple’s App Store and Google Play have come to dominate the app-distribution landscape while other tech companies serve as ad networks, analytics providers and a variety of other positions along the value chain

Carriers still pack some powerful weapons as they increasingly invade the digital media space, however, Gillis said.

“Carriers are well managed from a scalability and usability perspective,” he observed. “How do you make it easier for a customer to use our product? If you can with one click add something to your bill, that reduces friction.”

And carriers also know the location of their customers, as Mark Connon, AOL’s chief mobile and data officer, said earlier this week in Barcelona.

“We’re very open to partnering with other carriers and other players in the space that are going to bring us like-quality, high-quality signal that allows us to build the audience targeting, analytics and measurement capabilities that we really need to have to support our content business and deliver for our advertising partners,” Connon said, according to an AdWeek report.

Like its rival AT&T, Verizon is moving quickly—if not quite as aggressively—into media in an effort to counter glacially slow growth in the traditional U.S. wireless market. It acquired AOL and its significant media assets for $4.4 billion in 2015, and it recently agreed to pay $4.48 billion to buy Yahoo in a deal that was renegotiated after the venerable web company endured two major security breaches.

And like AT&T, Verizon is looking far beyond its base of wireless subscribers to distribute content and monetize advertising. Go90 is an ambitious—if foundering—effort to reach millennials regardless of which networks and devices they’re using, and AOL properties such as The Huffington Post and TechCrunch also reach large numbers of consumers who don’t use the nation’s largest carrier for wireless services.

“Verizon is a tool in the toolbox,” Gillis said. “How can they help make us more successful?”