America Online may have been cut out of the latest round of the cable broadband wars, but it doesn't intend to be on the sidelines for long. The largest Internet access provider has quietly stepped up its broadband initiative, hiring MCA Television veteran Robert Harris to oversee the development of broadband programming.
On Friday AOL announced Harris' appointment to the newly minted position of executive producer, broadband. Harris has already been working on the development of broadband programming for AOL's 17-million-member service. AOL spokesperson Wendy Goldberg declined to elaborate on the type of programming Harris is overseeing.
In a statement, AOL said Harris will be responsible for spearheading all development activity with regard to broadband content. This includes designing broadband-friendly programming, acquiring broadband programming and product, developing broadband product, identifying new content providers and working with current content providers that may have broadband applications.
"Robert's experience as a driving force in redefining network television is just the type of experience that will help AOL redefine the interactive medium as we enter the next millennium with high-speed broadband service," said AOL president and COO Bob Pittman.
AOL chairman Steve Case recently reiterated that AOL intends to pursue multiple broadband strategies, be it cable-modem services or digital subscriber-line (DSL) services. AOL has been shut out of the cable-modem activity so far, most recently dropping out of negotiations with Comcast to buy MediaOne, a part owner of the Road Runner service. AT&T has formalised its $US54 billion acquisition of MediaOne.
However, AOL has been active on the DSL front. It has deals with Bell Atlantic and SBC Communications to begin rolling out AOL-branded DSL service as early as this summer. The company is reportedly looking to cut similar deals with other Baby Bells and GTE.
It's clear AOL doesn't intend to wait until it teams with a cable-modem service before it begins developing broadband content. AOL plans to create AOL-branded products and services specifically tailored for the broadband user, including video, audio and graphics. Scheduled to roll out soon, the services will coincide with the first wave of AOL broadband access.
A 30-year veteran of the television business, Harris is best known for producing such shows as Happy Days, The Brady Bunch, Miami Vice and Magnum, P.I. Most recently, as president of the MCA Television unit, Harris began the sale of network series to basic cable systems, plus he created an MCA division that soon became the major supplier of cable programming.