TW lobby in AOL hands

WASHINGTON — The last AOL Time Warner lobbyist coming from the Time Warner side of the aisle has departed the Washington shop, setting the rumor mill spinning.

Will AOL execs try to fit in with the Hollywood lobbying crew? Or will there be an all-out culture clash between the independent-minded AOL and the collective nature of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, a trade org repping Warner Bros. and the six other majors?

Hollywood lobbyists were stunned to learn that Kathy Nolan, AOL Time Warner senior veep for law and public policy, ankled her post on March 30. It means no one is left in the Washington office with a link to Time Warner’s past.

Nolan’s exit follows the recent departures of longtime Time Warner lobbyists Timothy Boggs and Art Sackler. None has left for other jobs.

Boggs, considered the dean of studio lobbyists, made it clear from the start that he would leave once the merger won final approval from the feds. Still, many continue to bemoan his absence at MPAA huddles.

AOL’s George Vradenberg is now in charge of the lobbying operation. Vradenberg is no stranger to Hollywood; he was a studio exec and entertainment lawyer before going to AOL.

Perhaps it’s sour grapes, but some in Hollywood circles say Vradenberg hasn’t gone out of his way to fit in with the crowd. He hasn’t put in too many personal appearances at MPAA gatherings, although he’s been in touch with MPAA prexy Jack Valenti.

Vradenberg has made AOL Time Warner VP Jill Lesser the point person for Warner Bros.

Last month, MPAA members were upset over testimony prepared by AOL Time Warner and delivered by Warner Bros. exec VP and chief tech officer Chris Cookson at a congressional panel.

MPAA colleagues felt Vradenberg hadn’t fully consulted with them about the testimony, in which he stated that Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures were ready to act separately from other studios regarding digital TV and copy protection.

Generally, the MPAA gang likes to present a united front in public and especially on Capitol Hill. Sony, on the other hand, was not present at the hearing.

Then again, there’s no law saying Vradenberg has to. Studios are, after all, competitors.

AOL Time Warner “stepped on a huge land mine. They don’t realize the extent to which they are now part of a larger industry group,” one lobbyist says. (It’s not a Disney exec, either.)”I think sooner or later, either AOL Time Warner leaves the MPAA, or Vradenberg gets his act together,” the lobbyist added.

Other Washington players, however, say it’s not as bad all that, and that AOL Time Warner is making a good-faith effort to be one of the MPAA pack.

Still, AOL Time Warner can expect a bumpy ride, particularly with Nolan’s departure.

Nolan, a former congressional aide who worked on the influential House Commerce Committee, focused mainly on the Federal Communications Commission when lobbying for Time Warner.

“Kathy was a great part of the team, and we are sorry to see her go. We wish her the best,” an AOL Time Warner spokeswoman said.

Not long after AOL and Time Warner exchanged wedding vows in January, Time Warner lobbyist Art Sackler announced that he, too, would resign. Sackler, an expert in intellectual property matters, played a leading role in passage of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Hollywood lobbyists were caught off guard by Sackler’s exit — just as they are now by Nolan’s — as they hadn’t expected his tenure to be disrupted by the merger.

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