AOL Music is shutting down, according to a series of tweets from staffers at the company that were essentially confirmed by tweets from AOL Radio. The first came from Dan Reilly, editor of AOL’s music site Spinner.com, which said, “Well, we all just got laid off. AOL Music is finished.” At press time, reps for AOL had not granted Billboard.biz’s request for comment and confirmation.
Two tweets were posted to Spinner.com’s Twitter page that said, “All of AOL Music is shutting down” and “today is our last day,” according to a screenshot that was captured and posted online. Those tweets have since been deleted. Reilly later tweeted that he was sitting in an HR meeting “trying to negotiate keeping our computers for a few more days.”
He also vaguely hinted that Spinner may not be shutting down after all, but admitted he’s uncertain: “Maybe you haven’t heard the last of Spinner. I don’t know.”
A person with knowledge of the situation told Billboard.biz that the entire music staff was gathered into a room Friday afternoon by the HR department and told they had until the end of the day to vacate the offices. In recent years AOL Music’s staff and resources had gradually diminished, with staffers who’d either been laid off or left voluntarily not being replaced, and freelance budgets dropping. The person said at a March meeting with Susan Lyne, the recently appointed CEO of AOL’s Brand Group, the team was told it was not generating sufficient advertising revenue, and there was “blood in the water” after a hiring freeze was announced a couple of weeks ago. Lyne, a former ABC Entertainment and Martha Stewart Living Online exec, in February was brought in the manage AOL’s unique content brands, overseeing the properties’ growth and maximizing partnerships.
Nearly all of AOL Music took a hit, according to the tweets from AOL Radio. There have been layoffs at AOL Music as well as the blogs Spinner, The Boot, Noisecreep and The BoomBox. AOL Radio clarified in a tweet that the Slacker-powered AOL Radio service will continue to operate. An unconfirmed report says AOL’s Winamp/SHOUTcast service will also remain operational.
AOL acquired Spinner and Nullsoft in 1999 for $400 million. Spinner gave AOL a streaming and MP3 download presence while Nullsoft gave the company the Winamp media player and the SHOUTcast MP3 streaming media software. Spinner was revised in 2008 as an editorial site with interviews and articles as well as free downloads and streams. The Boot and The BoomBox were also launched in 2008.
AOL Music attracted more than 1.2 million daily and more than 25 million monthly visitors in July 2012, according to the comScore data at AOL’s advertising site. AOL’s total U.S.-based traffic was 110.8 million in February, up slightly from 108.3 million a year earlier.
AOL owns a number of popular online news sites but has no music properties outside of AOL Music. The company acquired Huffington Post in 2011 for $315 million and created the AOL Huffington Post Media Group. The Huffington Post specializes in current and political news while putting an emphasis on technology and entertainment, where the site’s music articles are housed.
AOL’s move is further proof that music plays an uncertain in online portals’ businesses. Yahoo! Music dropped its Yahoo! Music Unlimited, its on-demand music service, in 2008, outsourced its radio service to CBS Radio in 2011 and adopted Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio last year. Yahoo! Music head of label relations and programming John Lenac left last year.
Music seems better off in other environs. For example, SpinMedia, formerly named Buzzmedia, has built a small empire of music properties that includes Spin, XLRXR, Stereogum and Idolator. SpinMedia also has part-ownership in Hype Machine and Brooklyn Vegan.