AOL hires Conroy to head music division

Former BMG exec to head proprietary digital music distribution service

NEW YORK — Just days after public word of his departure from the executive ranks at BMG Entertainment, Kevin Conroy has been hired by America Online, to head its newly created AOL Music division, the company confirmed Wednesday.

In his new position, Conroy, who will depart his position as BMG’s worldwide marketing chief and prexy of new technology on Jan. 31, will oversee AOL’s long-rumored plans to roll out its own proprietary digital music distribution service.

Exec, who reports directly to AOL exec VP and general manager Jonathan Sacks, will also run the company’s existing Web music properties, including Internet radio portal Spinner, the popular digital media player Winamp and the company’s current flagship music property, the AOL Music Channel.

“AOL Time Warner has all of the pieces needed to lead this industry to the next level — tens of millions of subscribers and users, an incredible library of great albums and songs, an industry leading technological infrastructure and some of the world’s best-known recording artists,” he said.

Departure announced

BMG, the music division of German media concern Bertelsmann AG, had announced that Conroy and financial chief Tom McIntyre were ankling the company.

Move came after a flurry of executive comings and goings at the company, including the resignations of Chairman Michael Dornemann and CEO Strauss Zelnick in November, the naming of former BMG Intl. topper Rudi Gassner to replace them and, following Gassner’s unexpected demise just before Christmas, the appointment of former Bertelsmann chief creative officer Rolf Schmidt-Holtz to run the show.

Conroy and McIntyre, like their former boss Zelnick, were said to have had deep concerns over Bertelsmann’s decision to form a joint venture with rogue music file-sharing service Napster.

Meanwhile, sources close to the situation said BMG’s newly installed topper Rolf Schmidt-Holtz is talking to Bob Jamieson, the current head of BMG imprint RCA Records, about assuming a high-level post in the label group.

The exact nature of the post has not yet been nailed down, but reports indicated that Jamieson may become chief exec of BMG’s North American operations.

Jamieson’s appointment would put a veteran music exec in BMG’s inner corporate sanctum — a move industry watchers say would be welcomed in the BMG operation.

Unlike his near-predecessor Gassner, Schmidt-Holtz, while a veteran of the print and television domains, has virtually no background in the music business. Jamieson, on the other hand, has worked in the industry for nearly 30 years, including stints at Columbia Records and PolyGram.

“It’s always nice to have at least one person with a little music experience around,” quipped one observer.

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