AOL, a pioneer in digital distribution and communications and now a media giant, has been acquired by Verizon in a deal valued at $4.4 billion.

Founded in 1983 as the Control Video Corporation, AOL's first venture was to attempt to sell the concept of music-on-demand services distributed over the telephone network to Warner Bros. Having been rejected, the concept was modified and sold as the GameLine for the Atari 2600: an add-on cartridge which contained an analogue modem, allowing games to be downloaded over a dial-up network at just $1 per title for as long as you can play without turning the console off - after which the game would need to be downloaded again.

Dial-up connectivity would become a staple of AOL's offerings, from Quantum Link for the Commodore 64 and Apple Link for the Apple II and Apple Mac through to PC Link for IBM compatibles. Sick of the branding mess, and fresh from a split with Apple in 1989, America Online was born. Differentiating itself from rival Compuserve by offering a service aimed a non-technical users, AOL's most famous moment came in its sponsorship of the the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan vehicle You've Got Mail, released in 1998.

AOL's shift into media was completed in January 2000 when it merged with Time Warner, and over time its focus on providing internet connectivity would shift to acting as a digital media publisher and distributor - a return to the Control Video Corporation days. While its Bebo social network acquisition proved a failure, it has gathered a highly-successful swathe of media outlets including Huffington Post, Engadget, and TechCrunch.

Now, AOL is being acquired by US communications giant Verizon in a deal valued at a whopping $4.4 billion. 'Verizon's vision is to provide customers with a premium digital experience based on a global multiscreen network platform,' claimed Verizon chief executive Lowell McAdam of the deal, which will see chair and chief executive Tim Armstrong remain at the helm. 'This acquisition supports our strategy to provide a cross-screen connection for consumers, creators and advertisers to deliver that premium customer experience.'

In an interview with his underlings at TechCrunch, Armstrong claimed AOL would remain in the content business under Verizon rule and has no immediate plans to spin-off or sell any of its brands or sites - although Armstrong added that his job is to 'keep all optionality at the table,' refusing to rule out such a move in the future.
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