Tha-the-tha-that's a new strategy, Time Warner

Entertaindom, Warner Bros. Online's online entertainment offering, launches on Monday. The big question: What took so long?

Entertaindom, Warner Bros. Online's online entertainment offering, launches Monday. The big question: What took so long?

Officials at Time Warner say that no launch date for Entertaindom was ever nailed down, but several sources report delays. Warner Bros.

Entertaindom was initially expected to launch in the spring, but that launch was delayed because of orders from Time Warner that Entertaindom become a more inclusive hub that would draw from all of Time Warner's holdings. The newer plan was to launch in August or October, avoiding September so as not to coincide with the launch of the fall TV schedule.

The site is an ambitious effort to create original content on the Web and not simply serve as a promotional vehicle for Warner Bros. properties. The new site will feature original programming from celebrities like Chris O'Donnell, as well as multimedia outlets like Brilliant Digital Entertainment. It will also go behind the scenes with Warner-owned properties such as "ER," with the help of entertainment news affiliates Entertainment Weekly and People, magazines that Time Warner publishes. The site will launch with a streaming Webcast concert from Metallica.

Entertaindom is the first in what was to be a series of five hubs in a plan Time Warner execs were calling a "hub" strategy. It was meant to encompass all of Time Warner's businesses and divide them into five sectors, with a separate hub for each: news, sports, entertainment, lifestyle and money. But a representative for Time Warner Digital Media now says that the "hub" term should be considered "evolutionary. It's not definitive; it's not set in concrete. You should think of us as doing things in three areas: news and information, entertainment and personal finance."

Sports content will be incorporated into the 'news and information' plan, which was submitted by Bill Burke, who recently headed TBS Superstation. Entertaindom is the entertainment hub. And John Huey, the editor in chief of Fortune magazine - who's also busy launching the spin-off magazine ECompany - will head up the money hub, which now looks likely to have a 'personal finance' bent, says the spokesman.

The question remains: Why is it taking so long? The spokesman says the new sites will not launch before the end of the year, but declined to give a timetable for next year. Sources outside of the company point to a debilitating brain drain of Internet power. The departees include such Net notables as Space.com CEO Lou Dobbs, a former CNN exec; Internet Tradeline CEO Linda McCutcheon, who had been CEO of Time Inc. New Media; Harry Motro, who founded CNN Interactive; HomeStore.com exec Mark Bernstein, also from CNN Interactive; and former CNN exec Rich Zarahdnick, who's now at Goalnetwork.com. Most of these execs worked in the CNN part of the Time Warner family, but Pathfinder was Time Inc.'s primary Internet outlet and faith in that unit died out long ago, after Walter Isaacson left Pathfinder to edit Time magazine.

At Warner Bros. Online, President Jim Moloshok and Executive VP Jim Banister are highly regarded in the Internet community for "getting the Net" and working against a bureaucratic structure to create a unique Internet presence. Warner Bros. Online, which launched in 1996, was among the first of the studios to attempt to use the Net for more than mere promotion. Only now do some of the other studios seem to be trying to catch up. Sony Online Entertainment, for example, has teamed up with sister company Columbia Tristar Interactive to create an entertainment hub that serves as both a directory and a destination for original content. Meanwhile, Disney's Go Network continues to bear a closer resemblance to portals like Yahoo or Excite than to online entertainment centers.

Unlike its corporate brethren, Warner Bros. Online has been around as a separate unit for a few years. Also in its favor is a location in Burbank, Calif., far from the corporate politics in New York. What's more, the unit will soon move off the Warner lot, creating even more independence.

Warner Bros. Online executives were not available for comment.

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