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Author Topic:   AOL
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posted October 31, 2005 11:21 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for fred   Click Here to Email fred     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
After all these years, no topic for AOL? Not that I care too much - but they're now going after what Yahoo and Google have been doing for years. And this site does tend to focus on Time Warner related shit.

AOL: The Relaunch
It was scarred by scandal, mocked as Internet for Dummies, left for dead—but now it's being courted by Google and Microsoft. A story of (perhaps) redemption.
Monday, October 31, 2005
By Stephanie N. Mehta and Fred Vogelstein

In late July 2004, Time Warner's America Online unit assembled 25 or so of its top managers for a meeting at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Midtown Manhattan. The session, held in a narrow conference room in the hotel basement, was blandly billed as a "strategic offsite." But in truth, though no one came right out and said it, the executives were there to plot AOL's last stand.

Just before lunch, AOL's vice chairman, Ted Leonsis, and Mike Kelly, president of the media networks group, delivered a sobering assessment: Customers were defecting in droves from AOL dial-up accounts to broadband. Competitors like Yahoo and MSN were only getting stronger. To stay relevant—and to stay in business—AOL would need to build a Yahoo-like Internet portal. And to make that portal attractive to users and advertisers, AOL would have to offer up its rich content for free.

Leonsis, a gregarious, sometimes unpredictable sort (the majority owner of the Washington Capitals hockey team, he once hockey team, he once shoved a fan who taunted him at a Caps game), was particularly impassioned. He cajoled his audience and cheered the proposed strategy. He also prophesied doom if AOL failed to act. "It was like he used every personality he had," says one executive present at the meeting.

What Leonsis was advocating was nothing less than a redefinition of AOL. Many of the executives were stunned to hear such heresy from one of the few holdovers from AOL's glory days. Another vice chairman (and former Time Warner CFO), Joe Ripp, rose in opposition: In his view such a plan would simply accelerate the demise of AOL's still-lucrative dial-up business. Why should customers pay $24 a month for content that would be available free? Other execs argued that AOL had turned a corner, and with ads returning to the Internet, the unit didn't need such a drastic overhaul.

Just as the discussion got heated, AOL chief Jonathan Miller suggested a lunch break and departed with a small group of his top executives, some of whom opposed the free-content scheme. When they returned, Miller made an announcement to the entire group: We are going to do this.

The July session proved a turning point in what has become an improbable and dramatic renaissance. Wasn't it just five minutes ago that, as far as most of the world was concerned, AOL was DOA? Now it is reemerging as a force on the web. More surprising still, it's being courted as an important potential partner for companies that once dismissed the service as Internet for Dummies. Among the suitors: tech titans Google and Microsoft. The incongruity is striking. It's as if Porsche and BMW were suddenly vying for a piece of Buick. But the attractions are considerable: the more than 100 million unique visitors AOL attracts to its network of sites and gaggle of online utilities such as AOL Instant Messenger, MapQuest, and Moviefone. And now there's the free website, which was quietly launched at the end of September. The site, a portal offering news, search, and listings, is already piquing advertiser interest.

The technorati's newfound love for AOL is not yet matched by Wall Street or by skeptical executives within Time Warner (which also owns FORTUNE's publisher). Neither will soon forget AOL's calamitous plunge from more than $200 billion in value before its disastrous acquisition of Time Warner to about $5 billion for the unit a few years later. At an estimated $10 billion, AOL's worth today is still only a small fraction of its peak—but it's also a dramatic rebound from the bottom of the crater. It is, after all, an operation devastated by the bursting of the tech bubble, traumatized by a financial scandal that cost its parent company $360 million in fines, and hamstrung by a series of execution and strategic bungles, most notably its failure to see broadband as a serious threat to its dial-up business. AOL was scorned as a dinosaur of the early Internet period. But reports of AOL's extinction, it now appears, were greatly exaggerated.

When Jonathan Miller, then 46, took the stage at a Hilton ballroom in Manhattan in December 2002, AOL was nearing its nadir. Its U.S. subscriber base, for years an endless upward line, had crested at 26.5 million and was about to sag. AOL was in the process of missing its internal financial targets by hundreds of millions of dollars. A bevy of executives had been ousted, and the press had begun digging into past ad revenue machinations. Miller, who had been brought in a few months earlier from what is now called IAC/InterActiveCorp, where he had run the e-commerce division, was at the all-day analysts' conference to unveil his strategy for saving AOL. His solution? A lower-priced plan for customers who wanted to access AOL via a separately purchased DSL or cable modem connection. AOL would remain a "walled garden"—only members could get access to its content—and other Time Warner divisions pledged to provide articles, music, and videos exclusively to AOL to bolster the service.

The plan landed with a thud. Critics jeered and derided it as a half-measure. More important, it failed to attract new customers (though it did help slow the number of folks who canceled AOL altogether when they moved to broadband).

Miller's debut had been anything but auspicious. But even as AOL's image remained dismal and Miller struggled to find a big-picture strategy, he quietly began implementing incremental initiatives. Faced with lower subscriber revenues and sagging post-boom ad revenue, for example, he cut costs. As a result, in 2004 the unit managed to deliver 17% growth in operating income before depreciation and amortization, the measure Time Warner uses as a proxy for profitability.

Financial analysts yawned. Many wanted AOL simply to squeeze out as much cash from the profitable dial-up service for as long as it could until it faded out of existence. Others thought Time Warner should unload the entire America Online operation to an Internet company such as InterActiveCorp. But Time Warner didn't want to sell at a deep discount after buying at the top of the market. And company executives were reluctant—with good reason—to dump a unit that continued to generate $1 billion a year in free cash flow.

So Miller soldiered on. His opportunity would come in the very realm that had helped send AOL on its downward trajectory in the first place: Internet ads. After a three-year drought, online advertising began to rebound in mid to late 2003, and this time solid companies were buying ads and paying for them with cash. Big marketers started to look at Yahoo and MSN as important outlets for reaching consumers and building brands. Meanwhile, a private company called Google was thriving by selling and distributing ads based on users' search patterns.

AOL salivated at the revived online ad market. But to get a piece of the action, it would need to make some radical changes. Despite its travails, AOL still acted as if the Internet universe revolved around it. For example, AOL had been using a proprietary system called Rainman (remote automated information manager) for publishing advertisements on its sites. It was unlike any other system in the industry—AOL essentially grew up before the Internet did—and that meant marketers had to recreate online ad programs especially for AOL. Fewer advertisers wanted to bother now that the service was no longer king of the Net. So Miller pushed company engineers in 2004 to convert AOL to a standard ad-publishing system, bringing it in line with the rest of the Internet world.

Worse, advertisers hated dealing with AOL. Even after Miller arrived, the ad sales staff was still alienating its customers. "It was their lack of flexibility," says Jeff Lanctot, vice president of Avenue A/Razorfish, one of the largest buyers of online media. "They came to us not with an open mind about what was best for the client but with a predetermined package about what the client should buy." But the tone began to shift after Miller hired Kelly, a Time Warner executive with years of experience dealing with advertisers. (Kelly, it should be noted, is not the Mike Kelly who was previously Time Warner's CFO.) For example, says Andy Sims of online ad agency SF Interactive, AOL has stopped forcing advertisers that buy ads on high-traffic pages to also purchase ads on less desirable locations.

AOL was learning to woo marketers. But no matter what it did, it couldn't shake the underlying problem: the declining user base for the AOL service. Yahoo and MSN's free content meant they could amass audiences dramatically larger than AOL's. By early 2004 a number of AOL executives had started pushing the concept of a free web portal with at least some unique AOL content. They also began to examine ways of using the AOL-owned sites that already were out on the web, such as Moviefone and IM, to drive traffic to And to keep people coming back for more, perhaps AOL should offer a free e-mail service, like MSN's Hotmail, that required users to visit a home page to check their missives.

AOL purists resisted. Free e-mail, they argued, would cannibalize subscribers. (A lot of people hang on to AOL accounts just to maintain the same e-mail address they've had forever.) AOL's content, some of it expensive to produce or acquire, sets it apart from broadband competitors, which offer little more than a pipeline to the Internet. And even the most optimistic forecasts for growth in ad revenue seemed unlikely to offset the losses in subscription revenue.

The notion of AOL's new direction encountered almost no resistance, however, from its corporate parents, says Don Logan, who oversees the unit as chairman of Time Warner's media and communications group. Though AOL executives jousted, Logan says, "I don't remember any pushback at all" from Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons. Indeed, the Time Warner board voiced support in April 2004 when Miller presented the broad contours of a plan to win more ad dollars—in part by creating a web portal. Parsons was clearly intrigued. As he put it, according to people who were at the meeting, "What you're telling me is that there is a Yahoo inside AOL."

It was a hopeful moment. But Miller and his team still hadn't settled on just how much content to give away. It remained a divisive issue, one that came to a head at the July meeting at the Ritz-Carlton. Miller, according to people familiar with his thinking, may have made up his mind before the session and simply wanted the rest of his team to hear Leonsis and Kelly's presentation before announcing his intention to put every drop of AOL on the web.

Either way, by the end of the meeting AOL had something it hadn't had in a long time: a clear, unequivocal strategy. A few months later, in November 2004, Miller outlined a key component of his plan in an internal memo. He reorganized AOL into four groups—access, which would manage the dial-up business; digital services, which would pursue new products such as Internet voice calling; AOL Europe; and "audience," which would include and the other free Internet sites. The move streamlined AOL and eliminated a dreaded "matrix" management system that had snarled decision-making with overlapping responsibilities that enabled countless executives to veto new initiatives.

With the new structure in place, AOL began to move quickly in 2005. It started making more content available online, beginning with its music site. Then, in the spring, came an unexpected opportunity. Miller got a call from a producer of a global event, modeled on 1985's Live Aid, to combat African poverty. Would AOL like to sponsor the concert and have exclusive online rights to it? Miller agreed within an hour. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to show off AOL's commitment to free content and its video capabilities.

Miller's decision gave AOL less than eight weeks to figure out how to webcast nine concerts spanning six time zones. The slightest technical breakdown could have caused a huge public-relations disaster for AOL. "It was a risk," admits the producer, Kevin Wall, "but they pulled it off seamlessly."

The Live 8 concerts on July 2 showed for the first time that AOL could attract a giant audience—without relying on the walled garden—solely with desirable programming. For months afterward music fans and teens swarmed the site to view clips of Beyoncé in Philadelphia and U2 in London.

Some investors sounded as giddy as 12-year-old girls—about AOL. "The real wakeup call, for me, was the Live 8 concert," says Larry Haverty, an associate portfolio manager for Gabelli mutual funds (which own Time Warner shares). "It was a bang, hit-me-over-the-head realization that here was a really strong brand on the Internet, no matter how badly it had been derided by investors."

Competitors took note too. Microsoft, which is building its own search engine to compete with Google, approached AOL about using the MSN search product. AOL, which has a long-standing partnership with Google (AOL was an early investor and uses Google to power searches on its sites), agreed to listen to MSN's pitch and then suggested the parties explore additional ways to partner. Parent companies Time Warner and Microsoft got involved, and soon the companies were discussing everything from shared sales calls to a joint venture.

Google expressed interest, and even approached cable operator Comcast about joining in a bid for part of AOL. (Yahoo also briefly sniffed around.) For Google, a deal would secure its place as AOL's search engine, a relationship that now brings it about $100 million, or 3% of its revenue. The companies all declined to comment. But Time Warner executives are said to be open to any strategic deals that would help boost the valuation of AOL.

So far, talk of dealmaking has done little to boost Time Warner shares, which now trade at around $18, roughly where they've been stuck for two years. What may move the stock, analysts say, is proof that the strategy has legs. And though it's far too early to issue a verdict on the new approach, at least one preliminary number looks promising: AOL is on pace for ad revenue of more than $1.2 billion this year, up 20% from 2004.

Fulcrum Global Partners analyst Richard Greenfield says he'll be watching to see if AOL can increase the number of AOL-related pages viewed by Internet users. Advertisers use that measure to determine how long consumers stay online. Time Warner's Logan agrees that's critical: "We need sustainable advertising growth, and we need to make addictive."

That means divining even more ways to hook new users. AOL recently introduced a PC-to-PC calling service similar to Skype, and it appears to be pursuing a sort of online storage locker for photos and music. Fulcrum's Greenfield thinks the new is a perfect opportunity for Time Warner to get more of its entertainment and information on the web. Time Warner shareholders would cringe at the thought—it sounds suspiciously like the rationale behind the merger of AOL and Time Warner. It's inconceivable that AOL will ever generate enough cash to justify that ill-fated deal. But boosting the stock price by a few dollars—now, that might be a possibility.


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posted November 07, 2005 01:53 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for indiedan   Click Here to Email indiedan     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Report: Microsoft Top Suitor for AOL Stake

Monday, November 07, 2005

PHILADELPHIA — Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), the world's largest software maker, has emerged as the lead suitor for a stake in Time Warner Inc.'s (TWX) Internet unit America Online (AOL), according to a report by The New York Times.

Microsoft aims to fold its MSN Internet service (search) into a venture with AOL, the newspaper said, adding that any agreement would be several weeks away.

One issue that has yet to be resolved would be how the venture would be governed. Time Warner does not want to cede control unless it receives a "very rich offer," the report said.

Microsoft and Time Warner (search) could not be immediately reached for comment.

Other suitors seeking a stake in AOL include Google Inc. (GOOG), Comcast Corp. (CMCSA), Yahoo Inc. (YHOO) and News Corporation (NWS), sources familiar with the situation previously told Reuters (search).

News Corp. is the parent company of the FOX News Channel, which operates


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posted November 10, 2005 09:19 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for fred   Click Here to Email fred     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Yahoo drops out of race to buy AOL stake: WSJ (YHOO, TWX) By Steve Goldstein

LONDON (MarketWatch) -- Yahoo Inc. (YHOO) has dropped out of the race to buy a stake in Time Warner Inc.'s (TWX) America Online unit, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing a company spokeswoman. The newspaper quoted the spokeswoman as acknowledging that Yahoo CEO Terry Semel met Time Warner chairman Richard Parsons in late October, but said that once the proposed deal terms were passed, "we've never looked back."


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posted November 14, 2005 09:52 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for fred   Click Here to Email fred     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Venture of Warner Bros., AOL to Provide Old Television Shows a New Life Online
By Chris Gaither and Meg James
Times Staff Writers

November 14, 2005

Welcome back, "Kotter."

Time Warner Inc. plans to announce today that it will make more than 100 old television series — including "Falcon Crest," "Kung Fu" and the '70s sitcom that made John Travolta a star, "Welcome Back, Kotter" — available for free in the first major archive of TV shows on the Web.

When it launches in January, the joint venture between Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution and America Online could help TV, Internet and advertising executives gauge the appetite for longer entertainment programs on the Web, which is dominated by shorter bits typically lasting no more than a few minutes.

The project, dubbed In2TV, may give new life to once-popular TV programs that have fallen out of syndication. It's also a bid to tap into the booming market for online ads, including streaming video commercials.

In2TV is the latest example of how rapidly the Internet is transforming the television business.

Studio executives watched warily as the Internet threatened the music business with free services that offered unlimited — but illegal — song downloading. So they are experimenting with ways to let people watch shows on computers and mobile devices legally, hoping to tap new revenue streams in the process.

"Filmed entertainment is getting its act together pretty fast now," said David Card, senior analyst with Jupiter Research. "There's life in the old dog yet."

In just the last month such major broadcasters as ABC, CBS and NBC Universal have struck deals to make some of their hit programs available through various services for 99 cents to $1.99 the day after the shows first air.

The AOL service differs because it offers free access to TV shows no longer on the air. The economic model replicates that of traditional TV: Advertisers are expected to foot the bill, through four commercial breaks of 15 or 30 seconds during each half-hour show. Viewers will be able to choose shows from six channels, then watch episodes streamed to their computers. AOL is negotiating with major sponsors, such as PepsiCo Inc., that are looking for new opportunities to advertise online.

AOL plans to put a new-media twist on the material by offering trivia contests, polls and other interactive features. Users will be able to e-mail short videos to their friends, such as a clip of a 1987 appearance in "Growing Pains" by Brad Pitt, with shoulder-length feathered hair, as well as clips of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jay Leno and other celebrities before they became famous.

AOL's access to Time Warner content is a big reason the Internet service provider has become such a hot commodity. Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc. are vying to buy a piece of AOL, both for its Web search business and for its ties to traditional media content. AOL plans to promote the service heavily as part of its conversion to a free advertising-supported Web portal from a subscriber-only service.

The project also begins to fulfill some of the promises made during AOL's $99-billion acquisition of Time Warner in 2001. The deal's architects proclaimed that Time Warner would create the content and AOL would deliver it over the Internet.

That prediction proved premature, but nearly five years later, the pieces are falling into place. High-speed Internet connections and improved software have made online video much more closely resemble TV pictures. Kevin Conroy, executive vice president of AOL Media Networks, said the In2TV service would allow full-screen viewing at DVD-quality resolution.

AOL initially will license shows exclusively from the Warner Bros. vault, and the two divisions will share the ad revenue. Eventually, AOL wants to expand its offerings by including TV programs from other studios.

Internet advertisers have been clamoring for more high-quality video on which to place their ads, and presenting shows that have track records on TV could draw in marketers who have been reluctant to pitch their products online, said Toby Gabriner, president of ad agency Carat Fusion.

"What we're seeing now is that the big media companies realize they cannot hold back content and deliver it in the way they always have," he said. "The Internet is giving this content a place to live and to be served up in a way that it couldn't be otherwise."

There are significant challenges to bringing TV programs online, such as clearing the digital rights to the music used in the shows. AOL and Warner Bros. executives said they began talking about such a partnership two years ago but it had taken this long to figure out the business model and clear the rights.

Three paralegals working full-time for the last year have managed to clear 300 of the studio's 800 television series. For the next round, executives need to decide whether to pony up more money to rights holders or, in some cases, to replace the licensed music with new songs.

"We always have this stuff on the shelf," said Eric Frankel, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution. "I don't think people will be upset when we go out and take the programs we spent tens of millions of dollars creating and try to distribute and monetize it."

There's no guarantee consumers will go for it. Decades-old shows such as "Chico and the Man," "Alice," "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" and "Eight is Enough" may not prove to be big draws among younger people.

"A lot of people might latch on to these shows that didn't see them for the first go-round," said Craig Leddy, analyst for research firm Points North Group. "But how do you grow this beyond a novelty?"

Tracey L. Scheppach, video innovation director for Starcom USA, a major ad buying firm, said she would encourage advertisers to experiment with AOL's new service because there was little downside. Like traditional television, she said, AOL plans to structure its ad rates based on the number of viewers delivered.

"It will have measurable results so advertisers will get what they pay for," Scheppach said.

Additionally, some surveys have shown that people prefer viewing short videos, no more than a few minutes, on their computers.

"It's not very pleasant to sit at a chair and watch a very small screen, particularly when there's other entertainment content on your TV set," said Mike Vorhaus, managing director at Frank N. Magid Associates.

That might be particularly true for those old enough to remember Travolta playing one of the "sweat hogs" in "Welcome Back, Kotter."

"I've just spent eight hours on my computer, so I'm not sure I want to watch 22 minutes of 'sweat hogs,' " Scheppach said. The real breakthrough, she said, will come when people can stream online to their TVs.

"It's just a matter of time before that happens," She said. "But we're seeing a definite trend here, to more consumer control."

Some restrictions will be placed on In2TV users. They will be able watch the shows when connected to the Internet but won't be allowed to download them to their PCs or mobile devices, and AOL will make only 10 episodes from each TV series at a time available to choose from.

And In2TV is not replacing Warner Bros.' current mainstay of TV revenue: selling shows to networks and reselling them in syndication to cable channels and TV stations. Its shows such as "Friends" and even the 18-year-old "Full House" won't be on the Internet anytime soon because they are still huge revenue engines in syndication, said Frankel of Warner Bros.

"This programming is looking for a natural new window of distribution," said Conroy, the AOL senior vice president. "Somebody's got to go first, and we're willing to be that somebody."


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posted December 06, 2005 03:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for HollywoodProducer   Click Here to Email HollywoodProducer     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Microsoft, Google still vying for AOL By Kenneth Li
2 hours, 29 minutes ago

Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc. are in a "two-horse" race to strike an Internet advertising partnership with Time Warner Inc.'s AOL online unit, sources familiar with the talks said.

Industry experts say AOL is a critical swing factor on search technology traffic among the three big Internet media companies -- Google, Microsoft and Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - news) -- as it once was on online advertising, a category it practically invented in the early 1990s.

Microsoft and Google have each submitted proposals to AOL over the past few weeks.

Google is still very much in the running, the sources said, contradicting Tuesday's Wall Street Journal report that said signs pointed to a deal with Microsoft.

At least one more round of discussions is planned with each of the two parties, one source familiar with the plans said.

An agreement, which now appears unlikely to include selling an equity stake in AOL, is likely to materialize in coming weeks, probably before Christmas, the source said.

The discussions are occurring amid public threats by billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who said last week he would hold Time Warner board members "personally responsible" if they strike a deal that undervalues AOL.

Icahn and a consortium of investment firms have accumulated nearly 3 percent of Time Warner's outstanding shares and have initiated a proxy battle to replace a majority of the Time Warner board.

In other talks, Comcast Corp., which sources said was considering a joint deal with Google, is now also seeking a separate arrangement with AOL, regardless of the outcome. The top U.S. cable operator is discussing how it can market its high-speed Internet service to AOL's dwindling but still large dialup customer base, among other topics.

"We're talking to different people about different things," Richard Parsons, chief executive of Time Warner told business leaders at Town Hall Los Angeles on Tuesday. "Everyone brings something different to the party."

AOL made surfing the Internet and chatting online a household phenomenon. But it has been a drag on Time Warner's stock as it has lost millions of dialup Internet subscribers since the merger of America Online and Time Warner in 2001.

Since then, the Dulles, Virginia-based unit has focused on providing free programming and services to boost online advertising revenue.

Google has generated about 11 percent of its revenue in the first half of this year from its current deal to provide search technology to AOL, but this figure overestimates the importance of the deal to the company.

Analysts estimate the net effect of the AOL's business to Google to be between 2 percent and 4 percent of Google revenue.

Analyst Scott Devitt of Stifel Nicolaus said developments across the Internet landscape point to Google rivals seeking to reduce their reliance on Google by building or partnering in Google strongholds like Web search or advertising.

Examples include Microsoft developing its own search technology to News Corp. and Barry Diller's IAC/InterActiveCorp acquiring further online assets.

"We believe there are strong incentives across all of traditional media as well as all of Google's Internet competitors to reduce reliance on Google," Devitt said.

That sentiment is not lost on Microsoft, which is testing a syndicated search system that competes with Google in France and Singapore and plans a worldwide launch next year.

Microsoft's current proposals with AOL involve a simpler deal that would marshal the advertising forces of both companies in a joint venture, one source said.

Time Warner, Microsoft, Comcast and Google declined to comment.

Google shares fell $1.96 to $403.89 in afternoon Nasdaq trade. Time Warner shares rose 2 cents to $18.25 on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Additional reporting by Eric Auchard in San Francisco and Gina Keating in Los Angeles)


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posted December 19, 2005 09:46 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for fred   Click Here to Email fred     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Icahn questions Google, AOL deal
Monday December 19, 12:35 pm ET

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who has been pressuring Time Warner directors to improve shareholder value, has weighed in on a possible Google investment in America Online.

In a letter to Time Warner's board of directors, Icahn questions whether Google is the best choice for boosting Dulles-based AOL's business. He favors other options and says a Google stake may kill chances for another deal.

"I am deeply concerned that the Time Warner board may be on the verge of making a disastrous decision concerning an agreement with Google if the agreement would make it more difficult in any way or effectively preclude a merger or other type of transaction with companies such as IAC/Interactive, eBay, Yahoo or Microsoft," Icahn wrote in the letter. "I also question whether Google is the best partner for unlocking the value of the AOL asset."

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG - News) is offering $1 billion for a 5 percent stake in AOL, according to published reports.

Icahn holds a 3 percent stake in Time Warner (NYSE: TWX - News) and has threatened to sue the company's directors if they don't get enough for AOL. Last week, AOL founder Steve Case joined Icahn in calling for a breakup of Time Warner's businesses.

Published December 19, 2005 by the Washington Business Journal


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posted February 15, 2006 09:40 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for fred   Click Here to Email fred     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Former AOL Official Pittman Puts Web Firm Daily Candy Up for Sale

February 15, 2006; Page B3

As a fall guy for the disastrous merger between America Online and Time Warner Inc., Robert Pittman faded into obscurity after resigning from the company in 2002.

Four years later, Mr. Pittman could find some redemption in his latest business move. He stands to earn a potential windfall from a small Web business, called Daily Candy, that he has just put on the auction block. Mr. Pittman bought a controlling stake in the site for about $3.5 million in 2003. With traditional and electronic publishers keen to get their hands on Internet-advertising properties, Daily Candy could fetch more than $100 million, people familiar with the matter say.

While a relatively small transaction, a Daily Candy auction will be an important barometer for the pace and valuation of Web deal making. During the past 18 months, Internet media transactions have attracted top valuations, as publishers worry that advertising dollars are migrating online and away from newspapers, magazines and television. Big media players such as News Corp.; Dow Jones & Co. Inc., which publishes The Wall Street Journal; and E.W. Scripps Co. all have made Internet-related acquisitions.

Daily Candy's business is a simple one: It produces urbane email newsletters that make daily recommendations on shopping, entertainment, food and media. Originally written for a clutch of trend-obsessed New York City women, the site produces 11 electronic newsletters, including editions for Chicago, San Francisco and London. Advertisers pay for access to the newsletter subscribers.

Without costs for printing or the need for much editorial product, Daily Candy boasts margins of nearly 60%, say people familiar with the matter. The hope for 2006 is that the business will produce revenue somewhere less than $20 million, with earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in the low-teen millions, these people say.

The question for potential buyers is how much the Daily Candy brand can be extended geographically and across different media. Potential buyers may be attracted to Daily Candy's young, female audience, but Internet valuations have caused some potential buyers to pause. The fear, say people involved in these deals, is that all the best Web properties have been snapped up. The remaining buyers may be paying top dollar for marginal properties.

Mr. Pittman left the company that was known as AOL Time Warner in 2002 after being passed over for the top job. Before the merger, Mr. Pittman had been the right-hand man of AOL founder Steve Case and is largely credited with propelling AOL's rapid growth. But after the merger, the feuds between AOL and Time Warner executives became so intense that most AOL executives quit. Mr. Pittman founded his investment firm, Pilot Group LLC, in 2003 and has recruited several of his colleagues from AOL to join him. Executives at Pilot Group couldn't be reached for comment.

Write to Dennis K. Berman at dennis.berman@wsj.com1 and Julia Angwin at julia.angwin@wsj.com2


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posted February 28, 2006 10:01 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for NEWSFLASH   Click Here to Email NEWSFLASH     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
AOL seeks $18M from ‘phishing’ rings
Suits against three international groups under new Virginia law

The Associated Press
Updated: 10:59 a.m. ET Feb. 28, 2006

America Online is taking advantage of a first-of-its-kind anti-"phishing" law in Virginia to sue three international groups that allegedly stole information from unsuspecting AOL users by sending e-mail that appeared to be legitimate messages from the company.

AOL's three lawsuits, filed Monday in federal court in Alexandria, Va., seek $18 million for the unit of Time Warner Inc.

The suits allege that the 30 phishers, who have not yet been identified by name, violated the 2005 Virginia anti-phishing act, which covers AOL because it is based in Dulles, Va. The suits also cite federal computer fraud law and the Lanham Act, which protects trademarks.

The phishers cited in the suits are accused of sending tens of thousands of e-mails and setting up Web sites that purportedly were from AOL customer service.

AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said it was unclear how many members were ensnared, but he said the victims gave up screen names, passwords and financial information. The phishers are believed to be part of a multinational network spanning the United States, Germany and Romania.

These lawsuits follow similar efforts by AOL and other Internet service providers to go after e-mail spam artists and online scammers.

Last March, for example, Microsoft Corp. filed 117 federal lawsuits against alleged phishers. AOL has won at least 35 such cases for tens of millions of dollars, according to Graham.


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posted March 15, 2006 05:09 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for indiedan   Click Here to Email indiedan     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
AOL Starts Online TV Service To Compete With Google, Apple

March 16, 2006

America Online Inc. launched its new service in the fast-growing market for online video programming -- a television network that shakes the dust off classic television shows and streams them to viewers, with commercials, free of charge.

The service, In2TV, is a partnership between two Time Warner Inc. divisions, AOL and Warner Bros. It is accessible off the AOL homepage and currently features hundreds of episodes from 30 shows as well as some short video clips. The offerings, which will rotate on a monthly basis, are clustered into six channels ranging from "Vintage TV," which includes shows like "Growing Pains" and "F-Troop," to "Toon Topia TV," a category with animated favorites like "Beetlejuice" and "The New Adventures of Batman."

AOL plans to expand the service to more than 300 rotating shows within the year as well as to begin offering a broader range of television content -- including more-recent series and shows from other program owners. Starting this summer, some shows will be available as downloads at prices that have yet to be set, according to Kevin Conroy, executive vice president for AOL Media Networks.

The new broadband service comes as AOL's competitors are creeping into the market for vintage television as well. Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes, whose video store boasts current TV hits like "Desperate Housewives," also sells episodes from older series like "Saved by the Bell" for $1.99 each. In January, Google Inc. launched its video store with prime-time hits from CBS along with classic TV shows like "The Brady Bunch" and "I Love Lucy," which it often sells for $1.99 each.

The push to offer classic television shows online is driven in large part by the fact that media companies are finding the content easily accessible. Studios are jumping at the opportunity to once again make money off shows that have been sitting on their shelves, particularly since they don't compete with current television programming and are unlikely to dip into the increasingly lucrative market for TV shows on DVD. The content providers are also increasing comfortable with the anti-piracy technology that companies like AOL have put in place to ensure their shows aren't unlawfully spread.

More online video providers are likely to follow AOL's lead and adopt an ad-supported model as the audience for online video continues to grow, says Josh Bernoff, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. But he warns that maintaining that model for more-current shows is likely to be difficult due to licensing agreements.

An estimated 63 million U.S. Internet users watch online video at least once a month, according to Parks Associates, a Dallas-based market researcher. Eight percent of those viewers say they are paying for the content, according to the survey, completed this month.

Write to Jessica E. Vascellaro at jessica.vascellaro@wsj.com1


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posted March 16, 2006 10:33 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for indiedan   Click Here to Email indiedan     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Netscape Is Back
By Jonathan Berr Senior Writer
3/16/2006 12:22 PM EST

Time Warner (TWX:Nasdaq) wants to revive the once-mighty Netscape brand.

Time Warner's America Online service, whose new In2Tv service is trying to attract people to vintage television shows, plans to resurrect Netscape, one of the most recognized Web brands from the early days of the Internet boon.

The service is going to be relaunched as a social-networking site similar to Digg, which lets people share news articles, according to PaidContent.Org , a site that tracks online media business.

The new Netscape will be headed by Jason Calacanis, whose Weblogs Inc. business was acquired by New York-based Time Warner last year. Time Warner has laid off Netscape workers ahead of the Calacanis takeover, according to the gossip blog Valleywag, which previously reported details of Time Warner's plans.

Time Warner declined to comment. Calacanis didn't immediately respond to an email.

Before it was acquired by Time Warner in 1999, Netscape waged a highly public and ultimately futile battle to provide an alternative browser to Microsoft (MSFT:Nasdaq) and its Internet Explorer. That fight was a central issue in the Microsoft antitrust trial.

Netscape only has a fraction of the users that it once enjoyed, though its browser still comes preloaded on Hewlett-Packard (HPQ:NYSE) computers. It also has a portal featuring articles on news, sports and entertainment.

"Netscape has some residual credibility among the geeks," says Nick Denton, the head of Valleywag's parent Gawker Media, whose other blogs include Gawker, Defamer and Wonkette. "Calacanis understands that audience, and he's energetic. Also, what's to lose? Netscape is languishing. They might as well let Calacanis shake things up."

Calacanis deserves at least some of the credit for the growing popularity of blogs and their offshoots. His company's blogs are some of the the most popular on the Web, such as Endgadget, which focuses on technology news, and the television-fan journal TV Squad.

Internet and media companies want to cash in on the exploding popularity of social-networking sites, including MySpace, which News Corp. (NWS:NYSE) bought for $585 million last year.

"The new poster child for Internet success is My Space," says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and Public Life Project. "With the rise of broadband, particularly in the American internet market, it's just easier now for people to access this material, as well as create it and share it."

About 13% of U.S. adult Internet users have created a blog, according to a survey by Rainie's organization. That's up from 6% in January. In addition, the number of people who read blogs rose from 27% to 39%.


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posted March 29, 2006 12:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for fred   Click Here to Email fred     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Google says signs agreement on AOL stake purchase

Wednesday March 29, 2:25 pm ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Internet search leader Google Inc. (NasdaqNM:GOOG - News) on Wednesday said it signed a definitive agreement for its planned purchase of a 5 percent stake in Time Warner Inc.'s (NYSE:TWX - News) AOL.
Google struck an agreement with Time Warner in December to purchase a $1 billion stake in the AOL online division and agreed to expand its Web search and advertising alliance.

Google said the two sides signed definitive agreements governing the investment on March 24, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The deal is still expected to close in the second quarter.

Google said in the filing that the two parties had also reached definitive agreements regarding its commercial arrangements with Time Warner and AOL, without elaborating.

The arrangements under discussion included using AOL video content on Google Video and allowing communications between the two companies' instant messaging systems.

Officials at Google and AOL could not immediately be reached for comment.


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posted April 03, 2006 09:05 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for NEWSFLASH   Click Here to Email NEWSFLASH     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
America Online Changes Name to AOL
Monday April 3, 11:11 am ET
America Online Now to Be Known As Simply AOL; Changes Corporate Status

DULLES, Va. (AP) -- Time Warner Inc.'s Internet division, America Online Inc., said Monday it has renamed itself as AOL.
"Our company long ago accomplished the mission implied by our old name...we literally got America online," Chief Executive Jon Miller said in a statement. "Consumers in the U.S. and around the world already know us by our initials."

AOL also said it has changed from being a corporation to a limited liability company.

Time Warner shares fell 2 cents to $16.77 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.


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posted April 24, 2006 05:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for fred   Click Here to Email fred     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
AOL-speak is destroying language’s beauty
By Patrick Hogan
April 14, 2006 in Viewpoints


After seeing this, my first thought was, “What the hell am I looking at?” Since then I have been puzzled over my irate, troubled gut response to this note, an excerpt from an e-mail a friend sent me. I have concluded that my irritation stems not from the fact that I’m barely capable of decoding what my buddy was trying to say so much as my frustration at the manner of its delivery. The style of this e-mail exemplifies a relatively new and increasingly incomprehensible language that, unfortunately, is known to every student as instant messenger or AOL-speak.

I have become convinced that these abhorrent abbreviations are nothing less than an insidious linguistic plague slowly but surely wreaking havoc on competent communication everywhere. Cute and cuddly abbreviations such as “LOL” and “BFF” may save time and allow for faster, more efficient correspondence, but that is precisely the problem. The efficiency of AOL-speak not only erodes relationships by dumbing down how people talk to one another but it also degrades the English language itself.

For thousands of years, language has been growing and evolving. Instant messenger abbreviations represent an abrupt reversal of this trend; they are an evolutionary regression. Any biology student will be able to tell you that the more diverse a given species’ genetic makeup, the higher its fitness level and probability of survival. The same rules apply to language, and alas! Current trends indicate that English is indeed a frail creature on the verge of extinction. AOL-speak removes diversity and character from language, stripping words and thoughts down to their bare-bones skeletal structure. If one thinks of letters or syllables as genes, and complete ideas, images, and sentences as whole organisms, then instant messenger abbreviations represent a truly catastrophic corruption of language, a dilution that reduces the phonetic gene pool to a weak and watery soup. AOL-speak is the unfit offspring of inbred and watered-down language in which means of expression become diluted beyond recognition. Everyone talks about cataclysmic species extinction, yet here we are confronted with linguistic extinction as a natural habitat—the human mind—becomes increasingly polluted.

Language is precious, and being able to express oneself through writing, even in something as apparently trivial as an e-mail, is vital. AOL-speak strips all the beauty and nuance out of written language, converting it to a means rather than its own end, shifting the emphasis from quality of self-expression and communication to sheer speed, efficiency, and volume of dispatches. Personal communication used to mean something; people took time in the composition of correspondence and invested something of themselves in it. Now, however, cookie-cutter abbreviations have overrun the realm of language, leaving it a bleak, monosyllabic wasteland.

Not everything one writes should aim to be high Shakespearean art. Yet writing should provide a source of pride. Anything a person writes, even if it is a quick e-mail, expresses something about him or her and comments on who he or she is. Language is not merely a means but an end in itself, a fundamental method of self-expression. It is something to be reveled in, played with, and enjoyed as our greatest, most enduring cultural inheritance, not cheapened, commodified, and distilled to its barest essence. Efficiency of communication is not all that really matters.

Unfortunately, English is not the only linguistic tradition under siege by this infatuation with efficiency. Just think of poor old French! Consider how wildly inefficient the written French language is, where about 50 useless vowels get strung together to produce a word that, when spoken, sounds like little more than a brief and charmingly inflected sigh. By the logic behind AOL-speak, French ought to be banished from the tongues of humankind altogether.

Upon further reflection, a deeper explanation emerges for this fascination with linguistic efficiency. Instant-messenger abbreviations arise as a symptom of the great religion of our time: the universal societal belief in the absolute value of economic efficiency. Efficiency is our society’s sacred creed, so it’s hardly surprising that it ought to pervade our means of self-expression as well. Yet, when one reflects on it, obsession with efficiency stems from a deeply rooted fear. The ultimate purpose of streamlining and efficiency is to save time and reduce “wasted” moments, and people want to save time because it represents a scarce and finite resource that we all run out of eventually. People fear running out of time-—a euphemistic way of saying they fear the imminence of death—and, out of that fear, are drawn to the ideological siren song of living the most efficient life they can. And one way to do that, of course, is to write in as stripped down a manner as possible. Yes, dear readers: the tragic truth is that the current vogue of AOL-speak is explained by fear of death.

Perhaps a little inefficiency may not be all that bad. Indeed, living inefficiently is a tremendously courageous act because it flies in the face of fear. E-mailers everywhere, rise up! I challenge you to live without fear! Have the courage to live inefficiently through your writing, and, please, before it’s too late, before English joins French in getting wiped off the face of the linguistic map, start using real words and whole sentences again.


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posted May 01, 2006 10:36 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for HollywoodProducer   Click Here to Email HollywoodProducer     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
April 30, 2006
Media Frenzy
AOL: A Punching Bag in Need of a Big Hit
TIME WARNER will announce its first-quarter results on Wednesday, the first since the Icahn Insurgency against the company fizzled. Aside from a renewed enthusiasm for cable television — one of Time Warner's myriad businesses — Wall Street is not expecting sudden miracles from the planet's biggest media conglomerate. And, yet again, there is one standout reason for the blasé view of the company: the prospects for America Online, officially rechristened earlier this month as the zippier-sounding AOL.

Jessica Reif Cohen, a media analyst at Merrill Lynch, lowered her estimates for revenue and earnings at Time Warner "largely due to anticipated weakness at AOL." Anthony J. Noto of Goldman Sachs forecast only a modest single-digit long-term growth rate for the company unless it can return AOL to "meaningful" growth in revenue and operating earnings — a prospect, he made clear, "we do not believe will happen in the foreseeable future."

The smoke signals from within Time Warner suggest that things are not as dreary as they appear. The juggernaut is chugging along just fine, company officials say, with divisions like HBO, Warner Brothers and Time Warner Cable all at the top of their games. According to Mr. Noto, Time Warner is set to generate earnings of about $11 billion this year before tax, depreciation and amortization, on revenue of $45 billion.

As far as the never-ending AOL saga goes, the company is hoping to win over critics in the coming weeks by starting up a social networking product, to be called AIM Pages, that will compete against the likes of MySpace and Yahoo360 on the next Internet battleground.

But even if AOL manages to surprise Wall Street this week by doing better than analysts expect, it will remain the gilded punching bag of the so-called Internet age. There are several reasons for this, and all appear to stem from one fundamental problem beyond expected declines in revenue, earnings and subscribers: AOL's inability to attract its share of the best talent in its industry, and hence to demonstrate that it has the technological chops to compete with its fiercest rivals.

In this respect, it is unlike any of its sibling divisions at Time Warner, which, even in the face of new cost-cutting pressures, enjoy varying degrees of prestige, swagger and cushiness. (If you have ever strolled the halls of Time Inc. or HBO or the Warner Brothers back lot, you know what I mean.)

Generally, the case for AOL is along these lines: "C'mon, give it a break — it's only a few months into its new strategy of becoming an online portal like Yahoo or MSN while profitably managing the continuing and inevitable decline of its dial-up Internet business. Dude, this is one of the top brands and destinations on the Internet, period. And that online business still has nearly 20 million subscribers, generates nearly $6 billion a year in revenue and throws $1 billion in cash up to Time Warner headquarters annually. What's more, as of January, the company is at long last aggressively marketing high-speed DSL connections to its customers.

"And, hey, not four months ago, AOL was the prom queen in a heated courtship among Microsoft, Google and Yahoo, which resulted in Google investing $1 billion in the enterprise — even more money to kick upstairs. That gave AOL an imputed value of $20 billion — not bad for a business that some analysts said was worth zip two years ago. And aren't all the other media companies racing around again to do Internet deals? Doesn't everyone else want what Time Warner already has?"

All of these are valid points and go to the heart of the AOL paradox. Given all that AOL's current management, led by Jonathan F. Miller, has done to right the ship, he and the chieftains at Time Warner Center do deserve some (tepid) applause. Part of the problem in attracting the best talent to AOL is rather obvious — post-2001, would a top young engineer rather work for a company based in Dulles, Va., or in Silicon Valley or the majestic Pacific Northwest? Are Time Warner options, given its stock's longtime slump, as enticing as those of pure-play technology and Internet companies?

By the way, this isn't a blanket statement that there are not great people in AOL's trenches. But the last time I checked, Google was hiring employees by the Segway-load and Yahoo was luring engineers to shiny new research and development labs around the world.

From this talent issue stems the broader corporate questions that plague AOL five long years after its union with Time Warner. Even though Time Warner's chief executive, Richard D. Parsons, last year declared AOL the growth engine for the company, there is no great feeling of parental love emanating from headquarters. In the first place, Time Warner is highly decentralized. But there is also corporate pathos: as much as Time Warner's 80,000 employees understand that their business is changing, they do not want to hear the term "digital makeover" uttered ever again.

That raises another question: What exactly is the rest of Time Warner getting out of AOL, even now? Sure, there are finally some interesting attempts at cross-pollination at work on AOL, such as its IN2TV service for watching old Warner Brothers television shows or the popular new celebrity gossip site TMZ. com, created in conjunction with the producers of "Extra," the Warner TV show. AOL has shown sophistication generally in the realm of video search and, last summer, with the surprisingly successful Live 8 concert simulcast.

But tensions remain over why employees responsible for content elsewhere in Time Warner do not play a greater role at AOL. Contrast, for instance, CNNMoney. com with AOL's Money & Finance channel. (This is not to say that AOL should hawk Time Warner content to its audience, just that the Time Inc. and CNN online folks may have skills or insights to contribute to the future growth engine of the company.)

Although it is just the latest front on the ever-shifting digital battlefield, much is riding on AIM Pages, which will be announced in beta form in May. The idea is to build a MySpace-like network around the so-called buddy lists of people who use AOL's instant-messaging product, known as AIM. The buddy list will work in the same way that the "friends" section of other social-networking sites do, but it will have the added advantage of letting people know when their friends are online, whether they have added any new information to their personal pages — blog entries or photographs, for example — and is integrated into AOL's popular chat feature. What's more, AOL has a sales force that is already doing more than $1.5 billion a year in business, an advantage that it believes will lead AIM Pages to have a credible advertising business sooner than its rivals.

That is important because it moves AOL further from its walled-garden past and toward an open-platform world where success depends on who gives the audience either the best tools for building their online experience or the best clublike atmosphere where the most interesting people are hanging out. All the things that AOL is known for — simplicity, safety, ubiquity — are still valuable, but are not enough to win.

AIM Pages is especially crucial because AIM is the closest thing that AOL has to what used to be called a killer app; it enjoys a wide margin in the United States over its rivals from Yahoo and MSN in both the number of users and the time spent instant-messaging. The problem is, AIM's numbers have been sliding of late, in direct correlation to the growing amount of time that young people in particular are spending on social-networking sites like MySpace.

According to figures provided by comScore Media Metrix, the audience using AIM through the AOL subscriber service declined by 28 percent from March 2005 to March 2006, to 16.3 million. That is a result of simple but sobering math: AOL lost 2.7 million subscribers last year, and with each of them went multiple AIM identities. Meanwhile, the number of users of AIM via the Internet — separate from the subscriber service — was down 4 percent, to 28.2 million. During the same period, according to comScore, the overall audience of instant-messenger users declined by 4 percent, to 72.8 million. ComScore's ratings competitor, Nielsen/NetRatings, says the unique audience of AOL Instant Messenger declined by 13 percent in March from a year earlier. For AOL, these are troubling figures.

As boring as it is to pile on AOL, the analysts appear to have its number for now. To borrow the analogy from its Hollywood stepsiblings, AOL needs a hit. AIM Pages will be the next test of whether the company has the magic to generate one.


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posted May 09, 2006 09:06 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for HollywoodProducer   Click Here to Email HollywoodProducer     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
AOL Reducing Work Force By 1,300 Or 7%
Dow Jones
NEW YORK (AP)--AOL is laying off about 1,300 employees - about 7% of its worldwide work force - and is closing its call center in Jacksonville, Fla.

Other cuts will come from call centers in Ogden, Utah, and Tucson, Ariz.

The layoffs represent the first major cuts since the Time Warner Inc. (TWX) Internet unit cut about 700 positions last autumn.

Although AOL's subscription has been declining, spokesman Nicholas Graham attributed the layoffs to more savvy customers and better tools for them to help themselves. He said call volume has dropped by about 50% since 2004.

"That's a remarkable success in terms of customer care," he said. "It requires us to balance our work force."

AOL is closing its Jacksonville center, laying off 780 employees there. It is laying off 300 in Tucson and 125 in Ogden.


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