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New AOL CEO: Be Afraid

For those who missed it, Time Warner stuck the final knife into the back of the old AOL last week, when AOL’s interim CEO, Jonathan Miller, allegedly hand-picked by the outgoing Steve Case, was axed and replaced with a career TV/old media executive.  Miller wasn’t an Internet expert, but he’d worked with Diller, who is (now), and he quickly illustrated that he was willing to learn.  And he did a good job, all things considered.  But now he’s gone, and so is the final vestige of the original AOL, which once utterly dominated Internet-land–and, later, so mortified the old guard at Time Warner that they’ve spent the last five years trying to erase the nightmare.

In the short history of the Internet, few old media executives have quickly grasped the ways the new medium is different. Untold thousands, however, have charged into the fray, ready to teach the Internet kids how a real media business works, only to learn, the hard way, that the Internet really is different (not better, just different).

So what can we expect from Randy Falco, the new head of AOL?  I won’t rush to judgment, but the early signs aren’t encouraging.  If today’s AP summary and Falco quotes are anything close to reality, AOL is about to resume its rapid slide into oblivion:

The incoming head of AOL said Tuesday he left a 31-year career at NBC for the chance to transform the online business into a formidable rival to television and other traditional media, AP writes, suggesting that Falco has yet to notice that ONE Internet company, Google, has long been worth more than the entire television industry combined (and justifiably so).

”I’m fascinated by the Internet space,” Falco told The Associated Press. ”I see it as a very exciting environment to be in. It reminds me a lot about network television 30 years ago. It’s a little bit like the Wild West. There aren’t a lot of rules. That’s what excites me about it.”

A “fascinating environment”?  Yes.  And I guess it’s good that Falco’s excited about his new job.  But given that the next six months will determine whether AOL lives for a decade or dies in a year, one hopes that Falco’s gee-whiz attitude is quickly replaced by an understanding that the Internet’s wild west days are long gone and that there are crystal-clear Internet rules–one of which is that if you’re not No. 1, No. 2, or, at worst, No. 3, you’re toast.  And AOL fans should pray, hard, that Falco doesn’t follow in the footsteps of some of his transitioning brethren and spend his first six months on the job enthusing about a new commitment to “original programming” and “shows.”

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