for America Online
Biz 2.0's Desmond will channel Time Inc. content
By Toni Fitzgerald
In the grand remaking of AOL following the disaster that was the merger of America Online and Time Warner, another significant appointment has been made.
Ned Desmond, president of Business 2.0, has been named executive editor of Time Inc. Interactive.
His appointment, coming just two weeks after a new vision for America Online was unfurled, calls for Desmond to serve as super editor overseeing the flow of content from a number of Time Inc. magazines to AOL subscribers, from People to Entertainment Weekly.
Under the new vision for AOL, subscribers will get exclusive online access to these publications. Content from these titles will no longer be available to surfers who visit the individual magazine sites.
Time and Sports Illustrated are not among the titles included in the deal. Their content will remain available to surfers at no charge.
Desmond's appointment is significant in several regards.
First, it further solidifies control of the colossus that is AOL Time Warner in the hands of Time Warner executives. Desmond is a favorite of top Time Inc. editorial managers Norm Pearlstine and John Huey.
It is also important because Desmond will be serving as a linchpin in the grand new scheme for AOL, one that has raised a lot of doubts among analysts and others.
That scheme in essence is a return to the walled garden vision of an earlier, pre-merger period in AOL's history, with an emphasis on exclusive content to hold existing subscribers and to attract new ones, notably broadband users who get onto the internet through internet service providers other than AOL.
While there is some debate over how successful AOL can be in retaining its existing dial-up subscriber base, analysts have expressed serious doubts as to whether sufficient numbers of broadband users will be willing to pay additionally for AOL content.
Arguably, excellent content could make the difference.
Whether it can make a big enough difference is the question.
Certainly another issue is whether attempting to make that difference is a worthwhile or cost-effective undertaking.
Ironically, it was Time Warner's inability to create its own online operation that was offered as a reason for merging with AOL in the first place. The disastrous universal portal Pathfinder cost Time Warner $100 million without much return.
Looking back, it was Pathfinder and Go.com, the Disney portal that also lost millions, that called into question the whole notion, once so popular on the internet, of repurposing content across media. The lesson from the era, if anything, was that each medium must succeed with content uniquely tailored to that medium and the audience within that medium.
Among his other issues, Desmond will have to deliver editorial to AOL subscribers that is not so altered as to discredit the originating publication.
Desmond will also have to work with the editors of those publications to keep feather-ruffling to a minimum.
Certainly, Desmond comes with super credentials for the task facing him. He was at one point an executive at Disneyís Go.com portal before serving as launch editor of eCompany Now, which later morphed into Business 2.0 when the title was bought by Time Inc. last year.
Desmond will relocate to AOL headquarters in Dulles, Va., but will remain a Time Inc. employee and will report to Time Inc. executive vice president John Squires and editorial director John Huey. AT AOL he will work directly with Jim Bankoff, AOLís executive vice president for operations, and David Gang, AOLís executive vice president for product marketing.
Earlier this spring, Desmond was elevated to president of Business 2.0, his place as editor taken by Josh Quittner.
In his new role, Desmond will also help strategize internet identities for Time and Sports Illustrated.
December 16, 2002 © 2002 Media Life
-Toni Fitzgerald is a staff writer for Media Life.