Even as it comes under fire from the Feds for its lack of disclosure on its accounting, America Online Time Warner (AOL) is still not coming clean on another side of its business: subscriber numbers.
Long understood by analysts as slightly padded, AOL's claim of 35.1 million members lumps in those on free trial memberships with those paying the full fee.
For the first time in the company's 13-year existence, CFO Wayne Pace broke down AOL's 26.5 million U.S. users into paying vs. non-paying during a chat with investors last month. But the company still refuses to do the same for its European and Asian operations, which combined have roughly 7.3 million subscribers.
The Latin American division, which is traded as a public company, makes up the remaining 1.3 million subscribers.
Because AOL Europe is a wholly owned subsidiary of AOL, the company chooses not to disclose how many members are not paying the full fee, said AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein. And because AOL Asia is a private joint venture, said Weinstein, the company doesn't break down those numbers either.
Subscriber numbers are crucial to advertisers who want to know how large AOL's reach is when placing ads on the site.
But it's unlikely that the Feds are looking at subscriber numbers in the current probe, which is said to focus on advertising revenue reports before the merger with Time Warner.
In CFO Pace's report to analysts, he claimed 17.7 million of the 26.5 million U.S. members pay $23.90 a month. However, 3.1 million are "under free trial, member service and retention programs." Another 4.3 million pay a lower price for their monthly service, and 1.4 million gets deals after buying their computer, which often includes a free membership period of up to a year.
Last week, AOL Latin America disclosed that some of its members are on free trials - but it didn't say how many.
AOL Time Warner's stock has plummeted further since the company announced the investigation from the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice. It closed Friday down 6.45 percent, to $10.30, down 71 cents.
"As far as the stock is concerned, investors hate uncertainty," said Katherine Styponias, an analyst with Prudential Securities. "And this is certainly uncertain."