Pittman's a Man Ever on Message

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It's hard to shake Bob Pittman from his message. In August of 1999, six months before America Online Inc. announced its merger with Time Warner Inc., Pittman debated then-Excite@Home Corp. CEO Thomas Jermoluk on the merits of broadband Internet access versus AOL's core dial-up online service.

The convenience of narrowband will save it from a defeat at the hands of Excite@Home and other cable-modem services, Pittman declared at an industry conference.

"People aren't tethered to one computer," Pittman said. "They want to be able to get online easily wherever they are."

Fast-forward to a panel session at the Western Show two weeks ago. Pittman — despite AOL's having acquired Time Warner Cable and its broadband pipeline — was sticking to his dial-up roots. Road Runner and other high-speed services won't replace AOL, he argued. Broadband will be just be an add-on service, he told attendees.

Another part of Pittman's standard repertoire are messages learned during his days at Century 21 Real Estate. Pittman joined Century 21 in 1995, and launched a marketing blitz. That's also when he began working with America Online, which marketed the real estate company and built a private online service for all the company's brokers nationwide.

Pittman, now AOL Time Warner's sole chief operating officer, is the second executive with a marketing background to be elevated to a top post in recent weeks. Former Home Box Office president John Billock was promoted to vice chairman and chief operating officer at Time Warner Cable in October.

Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing president Char Beales said the appointment of someone with a marketing background to run the operations at AOL Time Warner makes sense. The company's cable plant is mostly built, so now it needs someone to figure out how to fill it, she noted.

Pittman "has always been about understanding the consumer and envisioning what the consumer wants, and that's what it takes to be successful in business," she added.

Some industry observers called the selection of Richard Parsons instead of Pittman as CEO of AOL Time Warner a loss for the AOL side of the company and a win for the Time Warner half.

But it's worth noting Pittman's roots are in cable — he was a founder of MTV: Music Television, and a former MTV CEO.

Pittman also worked for Time Warner years ago. After running Quantum Media, he was named CEO of Time Warner Enterprises in 1990, where he helped launch Court TV. He was later CEO of amusement park company Six Flags.

On AOL Time Warner's Web site, the company lists its executives' educational achievements. Parsons went to the University of Hawaii, and CEO Steve Case went to Williams College. Pittman, 47, never got a college degree.

Goldman Sachs & Co. analyst Richard Greenfield said he thinks Pittman will do well as the sole COO.

"I think his ascendancy to sole COO from co-COO plays to his inherent strengths and his intense focus on the operating side of AOL Time Warner," Greenfield said. "I think this is a very natural transition that you've seen occur. You have a very nice balance between former Time Warner and AOL executives, not that it matters as much as it used to."

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