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AOL appoints broadband content leader

America Online takes another step in its broadband efforts, appointing an entertainment executive to lead the content development.

America Online today took another step in its broadband efforts, appointing an entertainment executive to lead the content development.

Robert Harris, who was named executive producer of broadband for AOL, will head up development of broadband content, including creation and acquisition of programming, product development, and management of standing relationships, the company said. Harris's department will manage video, audio, and graphics programming for users with high-speed Net access.

Harris's appointment comes one day after Microsoft threw its considerable weight behind cable Net access with a $5 billion investment in AT&T, which recently completed its acquisition of Tele-Communications Incorporated. The move will turn AT&T, the largest U.S. long distance phone company, into the largest U.S. cable provider, following the completion of AT&T's proposed acquisition of cable TV operator MediaOne Group.

AOL, for its part, has been more successful in its push for high-speed access via digital subscriber lines (DSL) than in its attempts at getting into cable. The Dulles, Virginia-based company this week declined to pair with Comcast in a joint bid for MediaOne.

Still, AOL would like to offer access via cable. In a conference call with investors held earlier this week, AOL president Robert Pittman "admitted that cable is going to be one of the preferred broadband access methods," Ryan Jacob, manager of the Internet Fund, told Bloomberg News. "And clearly, they'd like to offer their service. For them, it has to be a deal that's economical."

On the DSL front, in March AOL said it would partner with Baby Bell SBC Communications to offer its members high-speed access via DSL. The service is expected to roll out later this year in California, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, and Nevada. In addition, AOL in January teamed with Bell Atlantic to offer members access via DSL. That service also is expected to begin in summer or fall of this year.

The company plans to roll out its broadband programming this summer as the first of its members gets high-speed service, AOL said.

Harris, who will report to Barry Schuler, president of AOL Interactive Services, is credited with helping create or produce television series including Magnum P.I.; Murder, She Wrote; The A-Team; and Miami Vice. He served as president of Universal Television before becoming president of the overall MCA Television group, AOL said.

After MCA, Harris was president of motion pictures and television for Imagine Films Entertainment. He then founded and ran two independent film and TV production companies, Harris & Company and Harris Entertainment, according to AOL.