AOL Time Warner Drops "AOL" From Name

The world's largest media and entertainment company will now be called Time Warner Inc., as it was before the 2000 merger.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Acknowledging the failures of the largest merger in U.S. history, the board of AOL Time Warner Inc. voted Thursday to remove the letters "AOL" from the company's name.

The largest media and entertainment company in the world will now be called Time Warner Inc., as it was before the merger announced on Jan. 10, 2000 that was billed as a way to jump-start a media revolution by combining "old" and "new" media companies.

"We believe that our new name better reflects the portfolio of our valuable businesses and ends any confusion between our corporate name and the America Online brand name for our investors, partners and the public," chairman and chief executive Richard Parsons said in a statement.

The name change will be phased in over the next several weeks, and will affect the company's logos, the way promotes its brands and even its ticker symbol, which is currently "AOL" but will revert to "TWX."

The change will also affect the name on the company's new headquarters building, a gleaming 80-story structure in Manhattan's Columbus Circle currently known as AOL Time Warner Center. The building is nearly complete and will be opened to its first occupant, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, in the fall. Time Warner plans to move in next spring.

The pioneering Internet company America Online was once seen as a catalyst to breathe new life into the various media properties of Time Warner, including HBO, Time magazine and the nation's No. 2 cable company, Time Warner Cable.

Now, AOL is the company's biggest embarrassment. AOL is still profitable, on track to make nearly $1 billion this year, but it's facing a host of problems, including a regulatory inquiry into its accounting and an eroding subscriber base as users drop AOL for faster connections to the Internet.

With hopes for a media revolution now a distant memory, the company will focus on simplifying its tangled corporate structure, cleaning up its balance sheet, and selling off businesses in order to pay down debt and focus on its main media and entertainment businesses.

This week, the company announced its latest asset sale, a deal to sell its two winter sports teams in Atlanta, the NBA's Hawks and the NHL's Thrashers, to a Boston businessman for $250 million. AOL has also sold off a DVD manufacturing facility and its half-interest in the Comedy Central cable channel.

AOL Time Warner first indicated that it was considering a name change last month, when AOL chief Jonathan Miller personally appealed to Parsons that AOL be dropped from the corporate title so people wouldn't confuse the overall company with the online division.

Time Warner veterans from the company have long pressed for such a change, but Miller said he made the push on his own. Miller was not a loyalist in either side of the AOL-Time Warner feud, having come in as AOL's fix-it man from the former USA Interactive.

Investors and analysts responded well to the name change. The company's stock has been rising since last month, when word first came out that the name change was being considered.

"AOL is a very unattractive tail on a beautiful dog," said Larry Haverty, a media analyst at State Street Research in Boston. "It's the best possible thing for a shareholder _ admit your mistake and move on."

AOL Time Warner has said it is not contemplating a sale or spinoff of the AOL division, focusing instead on trying to fix the problems there.

Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen said the company was right to hold on to AOL, which was just recently showing signs of life, including better advertising trends. "They've gone through the brunt of the pain, and it makes no sense to spin it off now," she said.

AOL Time Warner isn't the only company going through an identity crisis. Vivendi Universal is also considering a name change after the French company, which started out as a water utilities conglomerate, completes a deal to merge its Universal entertainment assets with General Electric Co.'s NBC. Vivendi took on the Universal name after it bought the properties from Seagram Co., the Canadian beverage maker.

The company once known as WorldCom Inc. changed its name in April to MCI, the name of its long-distance carrier, as it moved to distance itself from a major accounting scandal, and cigarette maker Philip Morris Companies Inc. changed its name to Altria Group Inc.

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