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AOL Hires HGTV Exec Balthazar to Program Home Page (Exclusive)

TV development executive and pop-culture pundit to oversee AOL.com content strategy

AOL has turned to the television biz to recruit talent to drive up traffic, hiring HGTV programming exec Brian Balthazar to oversee content strategy for its homepage.

Rival Yahoo has also tuned into the TV world — most recently, hyping up its splashy pact with Katie Couric to become “global anchor” for Yahoo News. By contrast, with Balthazar, AOL is bringing on board an exec who’s mostly been behind the camera.

Balthazar previously was director of original programming and development for Scripps Networks Interactive’s HGTV. He’s set to join AOL as VP, head of programming and executive producer of AOL.com, effective Jan. 6.

In the role, Balthazar will oversee content strategy for the company’s homepage, which receives some 8 million daily visitors. He will report to Maureen Sullivan, president of AOL.com and Lifestyle Brands.

Sullivan, who took over responsibility of AOL.com in early October, said Balthazar was her first choice to head up content development for the destination because “his career has been on the pulse of pop culture.”

“He’s exactly the type of leader we need at the helm of AOL.com,” she said, noting that the AOL.com audience is bigger than “Today” or latenite TV.

At HGTV, Balthazar developed shows including “House Hunters,” “Selling New York” and “Selling LA,” representing 500-plus hours of programming overall. Prior to joining HGTV in 2008, he worked at NBC, where he developed and launched the Peacock’s fourth hour of “Today” with hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. He also has served as a senior producer at MSNBC.

He’s also a pop-culture commentator who has made regular TV appearances, and is a contributor on SiriusXM and Cumulus radio. In addition, Balthazar curates entertainment blog PopGoesTheWeek.com (which will now mostly include “links to AOL,” he joked).

Balthazar said the AOL gig will be a “needle-in-the-haystack job” to develop new video programming and content ideas that resonate with site visitors. But, he said, “There aren’t going to be any hard turns here” in terms of strategy.

Balthazar’s expertise in TV production was a critical factor in bringing him on board, Sullivan said. He will work with Ran Harnevo, president of AOL Video, to acquire content and develop original video properties. “Brian is going to add a whole other level of content expertise to the awesome library that Ron and his team have developed,” Sullivan said.

Meanwhile, the delayed AOL Live video programming initiative — which is separate from the AOL.com group — remains in development and is still in the plans for 2014, according to the company. Nathan Richardson, formerly co-founder of video-aggregation site Waywire, ankled as head of AOL Live in November a little over two months after he was hired.

Separately, Scripps Networks on Wednesday announced the hiring of independent producer Carrie Regan as director of programming and development in the home category, managing series and specials for HGTV, DIY Network and Great American Country. She will be based in Knoxville, Tenn., reporting to Steven Lerner, senior VP of programming and development.

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