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AOL Taps Tartikoff for Entertainment Site

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 11, 1997; Page C01

America Online Inc. is tapping the talents of another big-name outsider, former NBC television-programming wunderkind Brandon Tartikoff. He will head an Internet site focusing on movies, TV, music and other forms of entertainment, AOL said yesterday.

AOL executives are hopeful Tartikoff's connections in the entertainment world will lend legitimacy to the venture, one of several such "content networks" the company is planning. The company said others likely will cover sports, romance and travel.

"It's clear that Brandon has a lot of strong relationships and good friends in Hollywood," said Ted Leonsis, chief executive of America Online Studios, a division that will oversee Tartikoff's project.

The site, which will be launched this fall, will offer a variety of interactive entertainment-related services, including chat rooms, movie reviews and celebrity interviews. To develop the site, AOL said yesterday, it will purchase LightSpeed Media Inc., which produced some of the first soap operas and interactive programs on the Internet.

Founded by entrepreneurs, Dulles-based AOL has been bringing on board outside specialists as it struggles to maintain its lead as the country's largest computer online service.

Early last year, it named as president William Razzouk, former executive vice president of Federal Express Corp., though he left several months later. In October, the company named Robert W. Pittman, creator of the MTV and Nickelodeon cable channels, as chief executive of its America Online Networks division, which handles the 8 million-subscriber service.

Many industry analysts have been quick to criticize AOL in recent months as it ran afoul of consumer officials with its pricing plans and on-line traffic jams. But analysts reacted warmly to yesterday's announcement.

"They're making the right move here . . . in getting big-name talent," said Ulric Weil, an analyst with investment bank Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co. in Rosslyn.

America Online stock jumped $5 yesterday to close at $47 on the New York Stock Exchange.

As chairman of NBC Entertainment from 1980 to 1991, Tartikoff helped boost the network to top prime-time ratings with such shows as "Hill Street Blues," "Cheers" and "L.A. Law." From 1991 to 1992, he served as chairman of Paramount Pictures.

Unlike other well-known executives who have joined AOL, however, Tartikoff will work part time and only for a small section of the company. He will continue to run a Los Angeles-based TV production company that he launched last year.

AOL's deal with Tartikoff expands a previous arrangement, announced last fall. It calls for him to produce a TV serial about a struggling TV network called "Beggars and Choosers" that would be shown on the Showtime cable channel and would be updated on the online service.

The new site will be available to anyone with access to the World Wide Web, but it will have special features for AOL subscribers, said Danny Krifcher, president of Greenhouse Networks, the AOL unit in which Tartikoff's project will be located.

Tartikoff's contract calls for cash payments, revenue sharing and possible equity participation in Greenhouse Networks, an AOL official said yesterday.

AOL hopes to make money off the venture through advertising and by collecting a percentage of every purchase that's made online, Krifcher said.

Efforts to reach Tartikoff by telephone at his Los Angeles office yesterday were not successful.

AOL also announced that it would license software from Firefly Network Inc. for the site. Firefly's "agent" technology allows users who enter their entertainment preferences in a profile form to be connected with others who share their interests.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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