In the short history of the Internet, few old media executives have quickly grasped the ways the new medium is different. Untold thousands, however, have charged into the fray, ready to teach the Internet kids how a real media business works, only to learn, the hard way, that the Internet really is different (not better, just different).
So what can we expect from Randy Falco (pictured), the new head of AOL? I won't rush to judgment, but the early signs aren't encouraging. If today's AP summary and Falco quotes are anything close to reality, AOL is about to resume its rapid slide into oblivion:
"The incoming head of AOL said Tuesday he left a 31-year career at NBC for the chance to transform the online business into a formidable rival to television and other traditional media," AP writes, suggesting that Falco has yet to notice that ONE Internet company, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), has long been worth more than the entire television industry combined (and justifiably so).
''I'm fascinated by the Internet space,'' Falco told The Associated Press. ''I see it as a very exciting environment to be in. It reminds me a lot about network television 30 years ago. It's a little bit like the Wild West. There aren't a lot of rules. That's what excites me about it.''
A "fascinating environment"? Yes. And I guess it's good that Falco's excited about his new job. But given that the next six months will determine whether AOL lives for a decade or dies in a year, one hopes that Falco's gee-whiz attitude is quickly replaced by an understanding that the Internet's wild west days are long gone and that there are crystal-clear Internet rules--one of which is that if you're not No. 1, No. 2, or, at worst, No. 3, you're toast.
And AOL fans should pray, hard, that Falco doesn't follow in the footsteps of some of his transitioning brethren and spend his first six months on the job enthusing about a new commitment to "original programming" and "shows."