Brace yourself, here comes AOL-Time Warner

InfoWorld |  Business

America Online pending merger with Time-Warner will create an online media juggernaut that would be well positioned to drive the next stage of the Internet's growth, according to Barry Schuler, president of AOL's interactive services group.

The combined company, whose merger is expected to be approved soon by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, will have 119 million paying subscribers around the world. Subscribers will be made up of AOL's online members and subscribers to Time Warner's cable services, magazines, and other media, said Schuler, speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show here Monday.

"Look at AOL-Time Warner together and what you see in the consumer world is an unmatched array of brands, and we know that people buy brands," said Schuler, who is set to become AOL's president and CEO after the companies merge. "We're ready as a company to make this happen."

What's happening, according to Schuler, is a convergence between computing and consumer electronics that will drive a continued expansion of Internet usage. Household appliances like televisions will continue to look the same, but will morph into powerful computers that allow viewers to download a vast array of movies and programs, as well as shop online from their armchairs, he said.

The changes -- many of which are becoming apparent in products on the CES show floor here in Las Vegas-- will be driven by improvements in technology, the availability of high-speed Internet access and the desire for better ways to communicate, Schuler said. Those changes already are shifting the Internet beyond PCs and into Web-enabled phones, handheld computers, and automobiles.

Five years from now, consumers watching television will have tens of thousands, even a million, TV stations to choose from, thanks to broadband Internet connections, he said.

"Does this sound crazy? Well, if someone 5 years ago had said there would be hundreds of millions of Web sites, and that people would be able to shop anywhere around the world, or put up their pictures on the Internet for the world to look at, that would be just as crazy," he said.

AOL's strategy to bring its services to all types of digital devices, combined with Time Warner's vast media assets, will make the combined company uniquely positioned to capitalize on the next stage of the Internet's growth, he said.

At least one showgoer here agreed with Schuler's picture of the future, although he seemed more resigned to the prospect than excited about it.

"I think a lot of people want it to happen, but I also think a lot of people will wonder what happened," said Bob Wexler, founder of Wexler Computer Consulting in San Diego.

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