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PARSONS: FIXING AOL WON'T BE 'QUICK OR PAINLESS'

AOL Time Warner CEO Sees AOL's Best Hopes Overseas

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PHOENIX (AdAge.com) -- In a speech Tuesday afternoon to the American Magazine Conference, AOL Time Warner CEO Richard D. Parsons forecast a more managerial
Photo: Jeff Topping
CEO Richard Parsons denied there were any immediate plans to drop "AOL" from the AOL Time Warner corporate name.
and less acquisitions-focused role for the few top executives, like himself, who oversee complex media conglomerates.

Making it work right
"The next decade," he said, will see he and his peers focusing "on making what has been built work right."

Mr. Parsons was responding to a question that recalled a speech given to the same annual conference by Thomas Middlehoff, the former head of Bertelsman, who stepped down earlier this year.

"I was told to refer to that," Mr. Parsons said, "but it didn't seem like a good omen."

Mr. Parsons' breezy remarks were salted with such wry references. He spoke of how music expressed deeply held emotions, upon which the new CEO segued into a familiar Beatles ballad: "Yesterday. All my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they're here to stay." He also carefully choreographed a "goof" in which he referred to his company as "Time Warner," before quickly and impishly correcting himself, to widespread laughter.

Name change?
But in a brief press scrum following his remarks, he hedged on

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a question asking if AOL might be dropped from the company's title.

"I don't see merit or wisdom in [a name change] at this point in time. ... Why trash that powerful brand?" he said.

However, Mr. Parsons admitted that the "powerful brand" remained troubled. Although he spun the online giant's difficulties as "dealing with the problems of the past" -- a reference to ongoing federal investigations of misreported advertising revenue within AOL -- he said overcoming them was "not going to be quick or painless."

Best hopes overseas
"Half of their [old] advertisers don't exist," he said, which he added called into question AOL's ad model. He said the unit's best hopes for growth lay in overseas markets.

After the presentation Mr. Parsons fielded a few minutes worth of questions. He deflected comment on reports of a potential CNN and ABC News merger to executives overseeing CNN. Asked about ongoing investigations in AOL's ad deals, and the possibility of additional developments along these lines, he declined comment but implied this would be discussed in AOL Time Warner's quarterly earnings call today.

Mr. Parsons climbed into his car as a desert sunset bathed the scene in intense golden tones. Just before his departure, a number of Time Inc. executives and staffers gathered to shake their top boss' hand. The late afternoon light made the scene resemble the conclusion of a long-awaited pilgrimage.

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