AOL “cooked books” as dot.com bubble burst
Revenue "not of highest quality". Right
AOL misrepresented its accounts in three quarterly periods as the 'New Economy' bubble was bursting, according to an investigation by the Washington Post. The Post examined $270 million worth of deals made during 2000 and 2001, a period when dot.com collapses - a key source of AOL's ad revenue - were threatened to the online giant's explosive ad revenue growth.
According to the Post, aided by two senior former executives including Robert O'Connor AOL's VP of finance for the megalith's advertising division and James Patti, a senior manager in the BA (business division) department, which was responsible for negotiating deals.
In October 2000, AOL's then President Bob Pittman deceived financial analysts and investors by saying he "didn't see" any drop-off in advertising revenue, although two weeks earlier he had been briefed about the fall, and its consequences for the business.
AOL renegotiated deals with failing dot coms; and in a deal with eBay, booked all of the revenue generated from the resulting transactions as gross revenue, rather than simply its commission. AOL also scrambled to turn an arbitration settlement with a British entertainment company Wembley plc into an ad deal, lifting artwork without permission as it raced to put the ads online. $23 million that would have been booked as a special item was instead booked as advertising income. A similar deal was reached with TicketMaster, according to the Post.
Memorable phrase du jour belongs to O'Connor, who admits that revenue booked in this period was "not of the highest quality."
The Post promises further details - encompassing the complex Sun Microsystems/Netscape alliance - in a follow-up article.