Named chair of AOL's Entertainment net

America Online has named Brandon Tartikoff chairman of a newly formed interactive unit whose “working title” is the Entertainment network.

The appointment extends a partnership that Tartikoff formed with AOL last October, when his H. Beale Co. entered into an 18-month agreement to produce original projects for the online service.

The company also has acquired Lightspeed Media, a multimedia production firm founded by the creators of “The Spot,” the Internet site that pioneered Websodics. Lightspeed had already been developing content for AOL under the service’s agreement with Tartikoff.

Terms of the Lightspeed acquisition were not disclosed.

AOL’s Entertainment network — which company execs said will be christened with a permanent name in the near future — is part of a company division called Greenhouse Networks.

Greenhouse Networks is the original-content division of AOL Studios, one of the online service’s three main business units, the others being AOL Networks and ANS Communications.

Greenhouse senior VP and chief creative officer Charlie Fink said plans are under way to launch products for other media, including books and TV. Those deals should be announced in the next few weeks, he said.

He added that acquisitions of other content companies are likely during the coming year. The Entertainment network’s headquarters will be in Los Angeles, although existing companies that are acquired may remain in their locations. Fink said 50 to 70 staffers will likely be employed in L.A. America Online is headquartered in Vienna, Va.

Fink and Lightspeed founder Scott Zakarin emphasized that a wide range of entertainment options will be available on the network. The network itself, said Fink, will probably be accessible via a button on America Online’s main menu screen, which users see when they log on to the service.

Fink said content will consist of more than ongoing serials. That genre, he acknowledged, hasn’t yet caught on in a big way with online users or advertisers, despite an initial burst of enthusiasm for “The Spot” and programs like it. “No one has yet succeeded in doing what we’re doing with the Greenhouse,” Fink said. But in creating entertainment content, America Online has an advantage over competitors such as Microsoft and Disney, which last month signed a letter of intent to acquire a minority interest in online company Starwave.

“Online content is our core business,” said Fink. “That’s a huge competitive edge for us.”

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