AOL-TW To Drop AOL Name?

The monumental merger of old media and new is facing yet another identity crisis.

AOL Time Warner is considering dropping AOL from its corporate name, a spokeswoman said Monday. If the idea is approved, the company would simply be called "Time Warner."

Executives from the company's America Online division have lobbied Chairman Dick Parsons to make the move, saying AOL's brand name is being hurt by its identification with the publicity problems suffered by the corporation as a whole.

"Dick Parsons and senior management are considering a name change as a result of the America Online request, but this would be a decision that would be made in due course with the board," said Mia Carbonell, a spokeswoman for AOL Tim Warner (AOL: news, chart, profile).

Having the corporate name shortened to Time Warner would also "make it less confusing for AOL members," she said, because they would then be able to separate America Online from the parent entity.

The name change could be an item on the next board meeting agenda in September.

But the timing of such a decision seems odd since there's no company event or turning-point situation anytime soon that would be an occasion for a name change, says Paul Kim of Kim & Co., a New York-based investment research firm.

"It would be absolutely meaningless, from a consumer standpoint," Kim added.
Actually, says AOL's Carbonell, this could be a good time for the move.

America Online's proposal comes at a time when Version 9.0 of its software has "gotten good reviews and good buzz," and the unit's management thinks an identity switch "could help the product in the marketplace," she said. Whenever the name change is made, it seems likely to meet with skepticism in the investment community.

"You can call it 'Cable 'R' Us' for all I care," said Bob Bacarella, president of Monetta Financial Services, a money-management firm in Chicago. "[They should] just get back to running the basic business, and not worry about name changes.

"I'd rather see the board get through the SEC investigation and get their debt paid down, and get the other businesses on track to doing well," Bacarella said.

Previously, it was a faction the old Time Warner's executives that had pushed for jettisoning the AOL name, fueled partly by the online division's connection to a probe into alleged accounting improprieties.

New York-based AOL Time Warner remains under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department for allegedly inflating America Online's earnings prior to the 2001 merger of AOL and Time Warner. It also faces more than 30 shareholder lawsuits.

On Wall Street, shares of AOL closed up 30 cents at $15.53.
  • Joel Roberts

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