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AOL content could be promoted on Google if acquisition goes through

LONDON – Google may give AOL preferential treatment in search results, according to reports ahead of the Time Warner board's expected approval of the sale of a 5% stake in AOL to the search engine giant.

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Google last week got the upper hand on MSN, its rival suitor for AOL, and the news leaked out that it and AOL were in exclusive talks. Those talks are expected to result in a deal allowing AOL to promote its content on Google and, in what would be a first for Google, include its logo in search results.

The Financial Times reports that the two sides have agreed that AOL can run search advertising auctions and sell display ads on Google sites, promote its content in Google search results, and jointly develop video search with Google.

The price Google is believed to be ready to pay is $1bn (£567m), but there was strong resistance to the deal from rebel Time Warner shareholder and billionaire investor Carl Icahn.

Icahn labelled the deal a "disastrous decision" in an open letter to the Time Warner board, published yesterday.

"I am deeply concerned that the Time Warner board may be on the verge of making a disastrous decision concerning an agreement with Google if this agreement would make it more difficult in any way or effectively preclude a merger or other type of transaction with companies such as IAC/InterActive, eBay, Yahoo! or Microsoft," he said.

He cited a recent Goldman Sachs report that claimed eBay or IAC/InterActive would be more beneficial as partners than Google.

Icahn has been campaigning for Time Warner to change its strategy to improve shareholder value, and recently hired investment bank Lazard to help him force out members of the Time Warner board. He owns 3.1% of Time Warner.

Google shares yesterday fell 1.3% to $424.60 and Time Warner shares were down 0.27% to $17.95.

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