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AOL head quits, deputy to step in

New York, Nov. 13: James de Castro resigned on Tuesday as president of America Online’s flagship interactive service and was replaced by its vice-chairman Ted Leonsis, signalling an intention to resurrect Leonsis’ long-held vision of the service as a medium for presenting original programming.

The departure of de Castro after just seven months on the job and the appointment of Leonsis come just three weeks before the division’s parent company, AOL Time Warner, has promised investors it will unfold a new business plan intended to attract more high-speed broadband users and replace its declining sales of advertising and marketing packages.

The company has enforced a public silence about the details of its plans until then, creating a steadily increasing drumbeat of anticipation and pressure from Wall Street.

The resignation of de Castro, a former radio executive, was widely expected within AOL after he was passed over in August for the job of chief executive of the America Online division of AOL Time Warner.

Several AOL Time Warner executives said the appointment of Leonsis, a veteran from the early days of both America Online and the internet who had largely receded from day-to-day management, was an indication of one part of the company’s plans: to return to an emphasis on original content, an idea Leonsis has talked about for years, even when others at AOL had stopped listening.

Several AOL Time Warner executives said that America Online planned to provide more fresh material in part by turning to its counterparts at the company’s film, television, music and magazine divisions, who have taken an increasingly active interest in AOL’s welfare as disappointment with its performance has slashed the value of the company’s stock.

Executives said that at least one of the developments the company will emphasise to the board next week and to investors on December 3 is the incorporation into the AOL service of more material from the company’s old media businesses, such as more television news from CNN, promotional clips from networks like WB, music from Warner Music, and possibly new articles and photographs from Time Inc. publications.

Executives of Time Inc. said that they have already been working more closely with their counterparts at AOL in recent months on special projects like organising online polls about the actress Winona Ryder’s trial for shoplifting or a Web site about sleeping well.

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