Oath includes AOL and Yahoo, two former internet stalwarts that Verizon recently purchased for a combined $9 billion. Armstrong was initially tasked with using parts from each company to create an advertising platform that would rival the so-called duopoly of Google and Facebook. The plan has yet to come to fruition, partly because Verizon former CEO, Lowell McAdams, departed the company; the telco replaced McAdams with Hans Vestberg, an ex-Ericsson exec who has made it clear that Verizon's future is 5G—not media.
The news, on which a Verizon spokeswoman declined to comment, invites the question of where Armstrong will land next. Although the obvious (and more likely) move is to wait for a CEO spot to open up, there are also three prominent outfits intent on increasing their market share in ad sales, content or both.
Caution: Brian Wieser, the respected senior analyst at Pivotal Research, is skeptical that any of these companies will hire Armstrong soon. "I can't imagine him taking such relatively junior roles or anything short of a CEO," he says. "He doesn't need to work certainly." But play along with us as we survey the landscape.
Why it makes sense: If there was a turnkey solution, Amazon would very likely be it. The company already has sophisticated ad tech that it's built from the ground up. Its advertising business is also the company's fastest growing segment, totaling roughly $2.2 billion last quarter, up 130 percent over the period a year before. The company is also reportedly building out a free, ad supported video platform.
When coupled with the wealth of data Amazon has on its users—search, shopping, books, music and likely Whole Foods, too—Armstrong would have no excuses not to fulfill his goal of creating an advertising platform that would rival Google and Facebook.
Why it doesn't make sense: As noted above, Amazon has everything it needs to get started, so why bring in someone like Armstrong?
Why it makes sense: AT&T acquired ad tech platform AppNexus in June, and the plan is to integrate it with its advertising and analytics unit. The move came shortly after the company's $85 billion purchase of Time Warner. Meanwhile, Brian Lesser, CEO of AT&T's advertising and analytics unit, has made it no secret that he, too, wants to compete with the duopoly.
"The future state of the ad business is a platform business," Lesser said at Cannes. "Google and Facebook prove that platforms rule. When you make it easy for advertisers to efficiently buy at scale and generate performance, that's what they will choose."
Armstrong has both the technological and media chops to put the pieces together for AT&T. Like Amazon, he'd also have a wealth of data to work with.
Why it doesn't make sense: Lesser is just getting started on his Armstrong-esque project, and has a strong mandate from AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. In whatever role Armstrong could assume at AT&T, he certainly wouldn't have the leverage to make the sort of acquisitions or moves he made during his tenure at Oath.
Why it makes sense: Although it's a much smaller player, the upside is indeed real. Snap could, for example, use Armstrong's technological prowess to help it capture more ad dollars from marketers looking to reach a much younger audience. The company is trying to organize and position itself to operate more like Facebook and Google.
Why it doesn't make sense: The company just hired Kristen O'Hara as its new head of advertising to help the company reshape its sales structure; O'Hara was previously chief marketing officer at WarnerMedia. She will oversees U.S. sales and directly report to Snapchat Chief Operating Officer Imran Khan.