With little regard for Prodigy's entrenched ways, Mr. Kurnit, 40, swept in and redesigned the service to make navigation simpler and the look consistent.
He began cutting deals with outside content providers-like CBS-to offer subscribers branded information. And in a bold move designed to demonstrate Prodigy's immediacy, vitality and willingness to take risks, he unveiled last fall a $10 million-plus live ad campaign with up-to-the-second scripts related directly to the programming in which each spot appeared.
"The advertising reached to consumers and said, `We have something interesting for you. There's something on Prodigy right now that enhances something you already like to do,"' says Mr. Kurnit, exec VP-consumer products, marketing and development.
Still the category leader, Prodigy is seeing steady growth in its 2 million member base and is on track to turn its first profit this year.
"My primary goal was to put life in the service," Mr. Kurnit says. "It had been around without a clear market definition and people had preconceived notions."
Advertising and interactivity have played integral roles in Mr. Kurnit's life. His father, mother, two brothers and wife all come out of the ad business.
A former filmmaker, director and programming boss at Boston's WGBY-TV, Mr. Kurnit moved to Warner Communications in the late 1970s and oversaw programming and production for its Qube, an interactive cable TV trial a decade ahead of its time. He's also a pay-per-view pioneer who founded Viewer's Choice.
"I always had the interactive bug," Mr. Kurnit says. "I grew up in a home where we talked during the shows and when the commercials came on, we were silent."