AOL Beefs Up Programming Ranks

In a signal that original programming is among its key priorities, ISP America Online has brought in two media veterans to work on children- and
community-focused programming, creating two new positions in the process.

The online unit of AOL Time Warner , said Malcolm Bird, a former executive with children’s channel Nickelodeon UK, has joined the company as senior vice president and general manager of its AOL Kids Only division.

In addition, Tina Sharkey, one of the founders of women’s focused portal iVillage , has been named senior vice president, lifestyle and community programming.

Bird is expected to lead the development of new online experiences and programs tailored for children in its Kids Only channel, which is a popular feature in the AOL service.

Sharkey is expected to focus on the creation of new content
covering topics like personal finance, health, women and home, the company said. She’ll also work on strategic programming.

The ISP, under pressure from its corporate parent to halt a sharp decline in revenue after the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2002, said the promotions are part of its already-stated plan to expand original programming for its 35 million subscribers.

During a Dec. 3rd meeting with Wall Street analysts, AOL executives detailed their plans to revive the company’s sagging revenues, which included offering new programs and exclusive content to AOL’s narrowband and broadband subscribers. Today’s executive announcement appears to be building on that strategy.

The announcement also comes as family-focused content titan The Walt Disney Company teams up with AOL’s competitor, Microsoft MSN, to offer a lower-cost ISP that features Disney’s kid-friendly content. Launched last October as part of MSN’s splashy debut of MSN 8.0, the “Disney on MSN” service features a free subscription to Disney’s Blast, a premium online content service for kids that provides nearly 100 educational and entertainment features, and a free subscription to Disney Adventures magazine.

In addition, iVillage has also launched its own lower-priced version of an ISP for its female base, an online service that is aiming competitive pitches at AOL subscribers.

Sharkey’s experience includes programming work with USA Interactive’s CEO Barry Diller on a new home shopping channel, called Q2, now a division of shopping channel QVC, which is part of USA Interactive’s USA Networks division.

She also worked for three years at branding and marketing firm Frankfurt Balkind where she managed corporate brand strategies for Time Warner, QVC and Sony.

Bird’s career path looks similar in places to AOL’s Chief Executive Jon Miller, who also worked with Diller at USA Interactive as an e-commerce executive. Bird helped launch three networks: Nickelodeon UK, TeleMonticarlo in Italy and Miami USA network, an affiliate of USA Interactive companies. Miller was also involved with the launch of Nickelodeon’s UK division.

Bird’s experience includes a position as executive producer and head of kids programming for Miami USA Broadcasting, where he produced 20 hours of live programming per week for the network’s show, “Wami on Miami,” which also won two Emmy awards.

Bird and Sharkey are to report to Jim Bankoff, the executive vice president of operations for the ISP’s interactive services division, the company said.

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