Shareholders agree to AOL/TW merger

Union OK'd as feds seek information

NEW YORK — Shareholders of Time Warner and America Online voted in favor of their merger in separate special meetings Friday even as federal regulators sought more information on the proposed $124 billion combination of the two giant companies.

Time Warner vice chairman Ted Turner was absent from the Time Warner meet, but was praised by chairman-CEO Gerald Levin. “Ted has moral authority in our company. His role is key. His ideas are felt across the company,” said Levin, who will be CEO of the combined media and entertainment powerhouse. AOL chief Steve Case will be chairman.

Turner trouble?

Reports have speculated that Turner is unhappy and feels he’s being elbowed to the side as the combined company takes shape, with AOL’s president Bob Pittman assuming an ever greater role.

Levin said the merger was approved by 99% of Time Warner shareholders voting by mail, telephone, over the Internet and with ballots at Friday’s gathering. AOL holders came out 97% in favor at their company’s headquarters in Dulles, Va. The partners hope to close the deal officially sometime in the fall.

Asked about the latest mega media merger between Seagram and French conglom Vivendi, Levin said, “It symbolizes the dramatic changes in what we used to consider old media and new media.

“It also tells us we live in an interconnected world where a French company is, in effect, taking control of one of our Hollywood studios. That, itself, presents a delicious irony that turns on its head the notion of American cultural imperialism.”

FCC wants details

Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission wants a number of details from AOL, the world’s largest Internet service provider, including info on the recently launched AOL-TV; agreements with satellite provider Hughes Electronics and with cable operators; and delivery of AOL service over direct subscriber lines, satellite and wireless services. The FCC is asking Time Warner for more information on its cable systems and networks.

The request — in the form of a letter sent to both companies on Friday — is the second in as many weeks, suggesting the agency plans an exhaustive review of any possible competitive concerns. Worries over media consolidation were fueled earlier this year when Time Warner yanked Walt Disney’s ABC off the air in several key markets during a contract dispute.

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