Former Marcus Cable marketing maven Louis Borrelli Jr. is returning to the cable industry — as a vendor. His new charge: to sell America Online high-speed-data content to cable operators in an open-access environment.
"This is a great opportunity with what we can bring to bear [content-wise] and leverage those relationships," Borrelli, the new senior vice president of AOL Broadband, said last week while ticking off a list of AOL Time Warner Inc. content assets that can be exploited in a broadband connected world.
"We have 30 million subscribers, the No. 1 brand, the ability to cross promote the content and drive the whole digital experience," he said. "I love our position in the marketplace."
Borrelli's job will be to work with sister company Time Warner Cable to launch AOL Plus on its systems and to convince other MSOs to do the same. AOL Plus is AOL's broadband-content package that currently serves about 2 million subscribers.
It's also the de facto
AOL service for cable operators that carry AOL as another ISP on their cable system.
As a condition of AOL's purchase of Time Warner Inc., the company's cable properties had to agree to carry several competing ISPs before offering AOL. A handful of other cable MSOs also are making third-party ISP deals with companies like Juno Online Services and EarthLink Inc., in order to prevent the government from forcibly opening their networks to non-cable ISPs.
Borrelli has now crossed the line into vendor territory, hawking a service to MSOs.
"We stand ready to help," he said, describing how AOL Plus will help cable operators sell high-speed Internet services.
AOL has started discussions about launching AOL Plus on Time Warner Cable systems, Borrelli said.
AOL Plus's 2 million users have access to streaming and other broadband content from the likes of Cable News Network, The Weather Channel and the National Football League. AOL's new online music service, which will include audio downloads, streaming and electronic-commerce functions, will be integrated into the service, Borrelli said.
"Music will be a key cornerstone part of AOL Plus. Music is a big opportunity."
Borrelli allowed that "we're going to have to put more material" in AOL Plus to make it appealing to operators and consumers. "The aim is to marry that speed and technology with the content," he said, likening AOL Plus to cable's early days, when Home Box Office's distribution through cable systems rewrote the book on television-content offerings.
One stumbling block toward improving AOL Plus content is language in existing contracts that curbs streaming: witness the fight between Charter Communications Inc. and ESPNews.
"The current business model and contracts from a content perspective are probably the biggest gating factors to seeing a full evolution" in broadband content, Borrelli allowed. But he believes that over time, technology, content and business models will evolve to make AOL Plus compelling.
Borrelli will report to Audrey Weil, who heads up AOL's broadband initiatives. He began his cable career with UA-Columbia Cablevision and joined Marcus in 1986, rising to executive vice president and chief operating officer in 1994.
He left Marcus in November 1998, about seven months after the privately owned MSO's owners sold out to Paul Allen's Vulcan Ventures.
Last year, Borrelli and other investors bought out I-Soft Inc., a Web-design firm that owned and operated a golf-related electronic-commerce site. He continues to hold a small interest in that company.
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