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THE CUTTING EDGE | HEARD ON THE BEAT

For AOL, There's No Business Like Show Business

March 10, 1997|KAREN KAPLAN

America Online is going Hollywood.

The world's No. 1 consumer online service and Internet access provider will boost its production of entertainment-oriented content, with the aim of introducing at least a dozen new "shows" in the fall.

To jump-start the effort, Greenhouse Networks--AOL's original-content division--will buy LightSpeed Media, a Los Angeles company founded by the creators of the original cybersoap, "The Spot." The deal, for an undisclosed sum, will be announced today.

Brandon Tartikoff, the onetime head of NBC Entertainment, will be chairman of the small board of directors for the new Greenhouse entertainment network. Scott Zakarin, a LightSpeed Media founder, will become president of programming for the as-yet-unnamed network, which will be based in Culver City.

"It's got to be in L.A.," said Zakarin, who expects some of the shows to feature celebrities. "It's going to be a very personality-driven site."

The plan is for Greenhouse to produce about 70% of the entertainment shows internally with a staff of about 30 or 40, said Danny Krifcher, president and CEO of Greenhouse Networks in Vienna, Va. Eventually, similar efforts will be made in other categories such as sports, romance and travel, he said.

The shows will be featured on America Online but will also be accessible on the World Wide Web. Krifcher expects the venture to make money through online advertising and transactions and to eventually spawn deals for television shows, syndicated columns and books.

"I'm the guru in the corner, giving them advice and insights on cross-promotions, programming and spinoffs," said Tartikoff, who is also a veteran of Paramount and New World Entertainment.

The entertainment division marks the beginning of a new strategy for Greenhouse, which counts the Motley Fool and iVillage among its properties. Rather than simply produce as many shows as possible, Krifcher said he wants to build about 10 "big brands" that are better able to compete for the mind share of AOL's 8-million-plus members and other World Wide Web surfers.

The Greenhouse strategy is not exactly brand-new in the young Internet content industry. The M3P studio creates and buys shows for the Microsoft Network and even has a talent scout in Los Angeles. Last month, MSN announced it was canceling 10 of its 20 Web sites and cutting 30% to 40% of its temporary work force.

Ironically, Los Angeles-based American Cybercast (http://www.amcy.com) tried building a similar World Wide Web "network" around "The Spot," which Zakarin sold for a sum "in the low six figures." But Amcy ended up laying off nearly all its employees in January after it ran out of money.

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