Commentary

Randy Falco Moves To AOL: Deal, No Deal Or Some Deal

Timing is everything when major media executives look to quick-step their way to a new position. The dance has now stopped, with NBC Universal TV president Randy Falco becoming AOL's new chairman and CEO.

Much talk has circulated about how AOL needed a true operational executive to lead the company back to dominance, now that outgoing chairman Jonathan Miller has cleaned up  the mess over accounting scandals amid a Rockettes-like line of departing executives.

It wasn't that long ago that AOL had a swagger around Madison Avenue that would knock over hot dog salesman and little old ladies going to the supermarket.  The great respect Falco has built up with advertising executives will go a long way in rebuilding the brand.

Give Falco credit for steering NBC's advertising sales activities through the toughest of times--even as higher-ups at General Electric weren't getting his drift some years ago that if NBC didn't move fast, it would lose big dollars. Like some $900 million in upfront sales. GE suffered as a result, but this past year Falco's advice was heeded. NBC moved more humbly through the upfront market, grabbing more respectable results.

Falco should also be touted for directing the network successfully through tricky times concerning ad sales of the recent NBC Olympics--always a subject of intense scrutiny by TV business journalists.

That said, Falco and other mega-senior-level TV executives are always on the lookout for what moves above and below them, as well as what doesn't.  Above Falco was Jeff Zucker, chairman/CEO of the NBC Universal Television Group, who wasn't going anywhere. That meant Falco wasn't going anywhere at NBC. If it wasn't a forgone conclusion, it certainly is now that Zucker has a lock on the top job when NBC Universal Chairman Bob Wright decides to step down.

Still, it's tough for anyone to make a decision to leave the seemingly more progressive NBC Universal for the netherland of AOL--not quite the real Internet, and certainly not real TV.  But given the chance to run his own business, Falco has his shot to revive the brand--a move which seemingly was in hot demand from the Googles, MSNs, and Yahoos of the world a couple of months ago.

Falco's decision was an easy one in the media world of deal or no deal:  He dealt.

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