UPDATE, 8:17 AM: AOL hit all the right buttons this morning. The stock’s up 15.9% on heavy volume in early trading.
PREVIOUS, 4:13 AM: Shares are up about 4.9% in pre-market trading following this morning’s earnings release which disclosed a 10% pop in global ad sales, including domestic and international display ads. It was a glass-half-full report: AOL generated $22.8M in net income in 4Q, down 65.6% from the period last year, on revenues of $576.8M, down 3.2%. Still, the revenue figure topped the nearly $573M that analysts expected. And earnings, at 23 cents a share, were well ahead of the 16 cents that the Street anticipated. Credit Suisse analyst John Blackledge calls the performance “still soft, but improving.” AOL is crowing about ad sales because that represents its future as subscription revenues from its old dial-up Internet service inevitably fall. (Subscription revenue dropped 18% in the quarter, which AOL says is the lowest rate of decline in five years.) The company says that it made progress in ad sales for its online videos, major brands, and in local ads mostly on its Patch network of community news sites. But traffic was flat compared to 3Q with visits to MapQuest and AIM declining as properties in the Huffington Post Media Group grew. “Our Q4 results highlight AOL’s ability to methodically improve our consumer offering and financial performance,” CEO Tim Armstrong says. “We continue to invest in AOL and will continue to improve our operations during 2012.”