NBC exec Falco named new CEO of AOL

/ Source: The Associated Press

Time Warner Inc. named a veteran television executive Wednesday to head its AOL division at a time the online unit is evolving to become more of a media company supported by advertising dollars.

Randy Falco, 52, president and chief operating officer of the NBC Universal Television Group, replaces Jonathan Miller, who is leaving the company. The start date has yet to be set.

(MSNBC.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal News.)

The move comes less than four months after Time Warner announced that following years of decline in AOL’s core Internet access business, the company would give away AOL.com e-mail accounts, software and other features once reserved for paying customers in a more aggressive chase for advertising dollars.

Although Time Warner executives have been supportive of Miller’s efforts to set AOL on a new course, they were looking for someone with operational experience to execute the plan.

“With his proven success in operations, business development, video programming and advertising-supported businesses, Randy brings the right tools to run AOL at this important time in its history,” Time Warner President and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Bewkes said in a statement.

Time Warner officials said Falco and Miller were unavailable for interviews Wednesday.

In a statement, Miller said: “Rarely do you come into an organization with as many challenges as AOL faced when I arrived and then have the great satisfaction of putting it on sound footing. I’ve had that opportunity at AOL over the past four years, and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished.”

Since 2005, Falco has been responsible for NBC Universal’s commercial and operational functions, including network and cable sales and business development. Previously, Falco was president of the NBC Universal Television Network Group and group president of the NBC Television Network.

His work at NBC, owned by General Electric Co., gives him experience with delivering free programming sponsored by advertising as well as with video, one of the key areas AOL has targeted for growth.

Miller, 50, who previously worked for a company that provided information and Internet services, joined AOL in 2002 just as the company began seeing declines in paying subscribers.

In late 2004, Miller began breaking down AOL’s historic “walled garden” of exclusivity and made most of the company’s news articles, music videos and other features free on its Web sites. The transition accelerated with the announcement in August that e-mail and most other remaining services also will be free.

Earlier this month, Time Warner announced that AOL saw its largest quarterly drop in paying subscribers, although the accelerated decline was expected in light of the strategy shift. Traffic to the company’s free, ad-supported Web sites held steady, prompting Time Warner executives to declare their online unit’s new strategy on track.