Time Warner Builds Time Warner Builds E-Commerce Plan

Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX), the nation’s second largest cable TV operator and largest multimedia entertainment company is took a step toward a concerted electronic commerce business this week, appointing top bean counter Richard Bressler chairman of the new Time Warner Digital Media company. Bressler, who is also executive vice president and CFO, will start his new job July 15 and report directly to Time Warner Chairman Gerald Levin.

Bressler won’t be bored, as he is charged with creating a company-wide e-commerce infrastructure and developing and implementing the company’s Internet strategy. He will also oversee Time Warner’s part in Road Runner, a high-speed Internet access service for cable subscribers. In addition, Bressler is expected to expand Time Warner’s Columbia House online music retail business.

A Digital Future

In case Bressler does not feel enough pressure, Levin is making no secret about where he sees Time Warner’s future. “Digital media is Time Warner’s single-most important growth area,” Levin said.

Considering the company’s broad-ranging holdings, such a proclamation makes sense. Nearly everything the conglomerate holds through its variety of subsidiaries controls widely recognizable, and therefore marketable, brands. Time Warner controls Bugs Bunny’s Warner Bros., Ted Turner’s cable networks like CNN and TNT, HBO and, of course, the mother of it all – Time Magazine, Fortune and Sports Illustrated publisher Time Inc.

Scattered, but Online Already

Nearly all of those companies and brands have already established their own presences on the Internet, and some already conduct online retail sales.

Time Inc.’s magazines, for example, are available by subscription at the Time Web site and through the myriad of independent magazine subscription services online. The Turner Broadcasting channels, acquired a few years ago in the mega-merger of Turner and Time Warner, hawk dozens of products emblazoned with CNN, World Wrestling Federation and Cartoon Network logos.

Road Runner, one of two Internet-via-cable services available in the United States, is in the early stages of electronic commerce. Internet access is not yet widely available from cable companies, so the owners of Road Runner and its competitor AtHome have taken the rollout of advanced services slowly. One of the challenges for Bressler will be to push the Road Runner partnership to speed up the rollout of cable modems and of cable set-top boxes capable of transmitting electronic transactions.

Where the company goes from here should be interesting, to say the least. Time Warner offered no details on how it envisions the new Time Warner Digital Media division bringing all of these diverse online ventures under one roof. Will we see a Time Warner shopping mall online, with each channel or magazine or business operating its own online store? As they say in the TV business, stay tuned.

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