AOL Time Warner considers omitting 'AOL'


"AOL" is all but O-U-T at AOL Time Warner Inc.

America Online Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Miller has proposed to corporate Chairman Richard Parsons that the expanded name be shrunk to what it was before the ill-fated megamerger in January 2001.

As a result, Parsons and senior managers are considering changing the name to Time Warner, but the decision will be made "in due course with the board," spokeswoman Mia Carbonell said yesterday. The 13-member board, including six members with AOL roots, meets next month and could take up the issue then.

In an e-mail to employees yesterday, Miller wrote that "the three letters 'AOL' have ceased to stand for the Internet and the promise it entails, and instead have become the shorthand for the world's largest media company" and for any controversy, criticism or headline involving the corporate "conglomerate."

"I believe it's time for us to get our brand back," Miller wrote, adding that although he realizes to many people the change would seem to diminish AOL and to some it appears to be a "fate being forced upon us," he had brought up the issue with Parsons.

Around May, Miller began to believe that the change would be in America Online's interest. He lobbied for the change several weeks ago and formalized the suggestion in writing last week, people familiar with the interchange said yesterday.

With Miller in favor, there appear to be few if any corporate insiders strongly opposing the change, since embarrassed Time Warner veterans had been pushing for many months to drop "AOL" amid the online unit's mounting woes.

Even when there is no negative publicity, being identified with a giant conglomerate does not enhance the image of what was supposed to be the combined company's growth rocket, according to insiders.

And in the many matters where America Online is at the root of the problem - the division's plunging ad revenue and number of subscribers, the company's huge debt, massive write-offs, weak stock price and federal investigations into accounting irregularities - insiders also figure it makes sense to disassociate the AOL and Time Warner names.

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