Yahoo’s Wandering Eye Turning to AOL?

The latest rumors buzzing around beleaguered Yahoo is that it is looking to restart merger talks with AOL, and might look at Google or Disney — anyone but Microsoft.

According to the Times of London, Yahoo and its team of advisers from investment banks Goldman Sachs and Lehman Bros. have been evaluating possible deals in a bid to fight off Microsoft.

Microsoft offered US$31 a share for Yahoo, the second time it has tried to buy the company, and CEO Steve Ballmer said after the recent offer that Microsoft will do what it takes to secure the deal.

Will Microsoft Play?

Up to a point, Microsoft will keep trying, Eric Jackson, the dissident shareholder who was instrumental in forcing out Terry Semel as Yahoo CEO last year, told the E-Commerce Times.

“I think Microsoft’s a company that’s willing to play hardball and is also willing to walk away from the deal if they think the demands are unreasonable,” Jackson, president of activist investment firm Ironfire Capital in Naples, FL., added.

If Microsoft pulls out, Yahoo stock could crash, because it “was on its way to $13 when Microsoft made its bid,” Jackson pointed out.

He has launched a group of shareholders known as “Yahoo Plan B,” who are willing to sell their shares to the highest bidder. Disgruntled shareholders can sign up on Jackson’s Web site.

The group, launched Sunday, had garnered more than 37 million shares by Monday. “I’m in favor of taking the offer that’s available right now,” Jackson said.

The AOL Factor

AOL won’t be cheap — Google bought five percent of it for $1 billion in 2005, and is guaranteed to walk away with $3 billion no matter how AOL performs.

What does Google think about Yahoo’s courting of AOL?

“Google has no comment,” company spokesperson Matt Furman said.

Gone Shopping

AOL has gotten more active in recent months — much more active.

Earlier this month, it acquired, a leading UK independent affiliate network for e-commerce marketing programs. This will operate as a wholly owned business unit of AOL’s global online advertising services company, and AOL plans to accelerate its expansion elsewhere in Europe.

The purchase is the latest move in a sure but stealthy beefing up of AOL’s online advertising presence.

Last year, it bought four Web advertising companies: Contextual advertising company Quigo; behavioral targeting company Tacoda; mobile advertising network and software provider Third Screen Media; and Frankfurt, Germany-based international online ad-serving company AdTech.

Back in 2006, it bought Lightningcast, which delivers advertising solutions for on-demand, live and downloaded video across the Web. In 2004, AOL acquired third-party display network

AOL and Mobility

Then there are AOL’s activities in the mobile sector. Monday, it announced the AOL Open Mobile Platform, at the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

The platform will be opened up to developers this summer and will provide developers with the tools and code they will need to build and distribute applications across all major platforms and operating systems, including Brew, Java, Linux, Research In Motion, Symbian and Windows Mobile.

Developers will be able to integrate applications built with the platform with third-party application programming interfaces (APIs) as well as with AOL’s open APIs for AIM, AOL Mail, AOL Video, MapQuest, Userplane, Truveo, Winamp and others.

Developers will be able to monetize their mobile applications by using advertising resources, such as clickable banner ads, provided by AOL’s Web advertising services.

AOL Marketing Globally

Earlier this week AOL also announced that it has teamed up with Spain’s Zed Group, which develops and markets entertainment and community products and services for mobile phones and the Internet.

This will give AOL more international exposure as Zed has 50 markets worldwide in Europe and Asia, including China.

AOL has also just launched a new Web site in Australia as part of its global expansion plans.

In addition, it has a content-supply agreement with Fairfax Digital, Australia’s leading provider of online news, and has partnered with Tempest Media, Australia’s largest online advertising network.

This offers AOL’s suite of communications products, advanced video search, media player, and content focused on information and entertainment, and a search engine powered by Google.

AOL is also extending its partnership with HP to Australia.

The partnership, which is already valid in 30 other countries, lets AOL offer co-branded localized versions of its portal, toolbar and search on HP desktops and notebook PCs sold worldwide.

Shall We Dance?

AOL spokesperson Dori Salcido confirmed that AOL is pushing hard worldwide. “We have a very aggressive global expansion plan and are working with partners worldwide,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

However, she declined to discuss the news that Yahoo is approaching AOL. “We’re not commenting on this on or off the record,” she added.

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