"Complicated is the word," admitted AOL UK managing director Jonathan Bulkeley this morning as he contemplated the three-way deal that ends months of speculation about the future directions of AOL and CompuServe and gives WorldCom the networking infrastructure of both.
Bulkeley welcomed the deal. "The neat thing about this deal it that AOL is now focusing on its strength: creating content that's easy to find and use. By joining forces with CompuServe, we'll be able to bring Internet services to a broader market, do cooler things."
As an example, Bulkeley said that a combined company may have been quicker to implement streamed audio 'radio' broadcasts. AOL did not use radio for the first time until the weekend just gone.
Bulkeley confirmed that the current plan is to keep the AOL and CompuServe brands separate. "The brands are different: CompuServe is for business and professional and computing areas; the AOL brand focuses more on a mass market." He was cagey on prospects for the longer term and added that management and operations decisions have yet to be made.
What is clear is that Bulkeley see the move as being about more than Internet and online services. "We're a media company and people will consume media in all sorts of ways: through palmtops, interactive TVs, via satellite. Our competitors in the future could be Microsoft, the BBC, Sky, anyone. We're just going to focus on creating a compelling service with a good interface and navigation."
Bulkeley also played down the effects of the deal on AOL's network performance - under terms of the agreement, WorldCom takes over AOL's Advanced Network Services division. "In the UK, performance has been pretty strong so I don't see any changes being made. In the US it's probably more of a plus."
Bulkeley said he was looking forward to working with CompuServe. "CompuServe has been here the longest and is the number one player. They didn't achieve that for no reason."
In October 1996, Bulkeley was slightly less amiable. "MSN will crunch CompuServe," he predicted in an interview with ZDNet News. "They aren't adding any value and they have taken a long time to implement [version 3.0]."