The Microhoo stalemate drags on. Now that both Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) and Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) posted quarterly dips in adjusted profitability earlier this week, isn't it just a matter of time before AOL becomes the new star attraction?

Think about it. Microsoft can certainly afford to acquire Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX) online arm without breaking the bank. Yahoo! would have to belly up to the bar with a stock deal. That will be a challenge, since Yahoo!'s shares are likely to drop substantially if the Microhoo deal is called off, but it's certainly plausible.

Why AOL?
Well, this morning's Wall Street Journaldetails the traffic turnaround at America Online. Domestic traffic to AOL's websites has risen by 15% to 56.5 million unique visitors, according to comScore Media Metrix.

AOL's stateside success comes at a time when content heavies like CNET Networks (Nasdaq: CNET) are sputtering. What's the secret sauce? AOL's recipe has taken a two-pronged approach in repositioning formerly gated portals as free hubs while launching or acquiring sites without the AOL signage.

Now that AOL no longer actively promotes its access business, it has been making its online properties more attractive to reach the entire Web-surfing audience. The company has also bought sites -- fantasy football site this week and social-networking hub Bebo last month -- to grow its audience beyond its organic efforts.

The AOL of today -- heavy in both online traffic and display-advertising prowess -- is exactly what Microsoft is after in Yahoo!. AOL may be a poor man's Yahoo!, but it's also likely to be a realistically priced one, too. Time Warner has tired of the online baggage, and there is no way it would command the kind of multiples that Yahoo! has turned down.

In Yahoo!'s arms, AOL would be more of the same, and it would be beyond the clutches of either Microsoft or existing AOL minority investor Google (Nasdaq: GOOG). Such a deal would also be a way for Yahoo! to buy time to pacify angry investors and justify its claim that Microsoft's bid undervalued the company.

Time Warner will report on its quarterly results Wednesday. It may very well address the state of AOL and its options. If Microsoft and Yahoo! are smart, they'll be knocking early to make sure that they are on that list of exit strategy options.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz tells people that he's the "you've got mail" guy for kicks. He does not own shares in any companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.