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AOL shifts Collins

In a surprise executive shuffle, AOL Time Warner is shifting cable industry veteran Joe Collins out of Time Warner Cable into a newly created unit aimed at developing interactive products drawn from a variety of the company's divisions.

Collins, who had been chairman and CEO of the cable unit, will serve as chairman of the new Interactive Video division. He will be responsible for interactive television and advanced cable services video on demand, cable IP telephony and parts of AOL TV.

But media types and Wall Streeters say that the shift stems from friction between Collins and AOL co-COO Bob Pittman, to whom cable division staffers directly report. In his new position, Collins reports to AOL CEO Jerry Levin, who has worked with Collins for years at Time Inc. and Time Warner, which AOL acquired in January. Collins was named chairman of Time Warner's cable unit in 1988 and previously had been president of HBO.

Most of the product-development personnel in Collins' new division had pretty much been reporting to Time Warner Cable anyway, so why the switch? "There are a lot of pieces in order to create a lot of products that are not currently part of the cable unit," Collins said, citing as examples video-on-demand rights for Warner Bros. movies.

"Pittman and Collins don't get along very well," said one cable operator.

A Time Warner executive denied that Collins was simply being kicked upstairs. "If Joe didn't want to be doing this, he would just leave."

Engineering whiz Jim Chiddix will move with Collins to the new division, which aims to pull together the resources of Time Warner Cable and the America Online service. Time Warner Cable President Glenn Britt succeeds Collins as chairman and CEO and will report to Pittman. Tom Rutledge, upped from senior executive vice president of Time Warner Cable, will become president.