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Show Down

Two ambitious entertainment sites hit speed bumps on the Net.

Another day, another Web entertainment company in turmoil. This time it’s Entertaindom.com (www.entertaindom.com), Time Warner’s ambitious effort to create an all-in-one site for original entertainment. Started only last November — and including substantial content from this magazine and its own website — Entertaindom was rocked in early April when top executives Jim Moloshok, Jim Banister, and Jeff Weiner tendered their resignations and cleaned out their offices. The resignations reportedly have yet to be accepted, but a Warner Bros. spokesperson acknowledged the three execs “are currently in negotiations regarding their future.” Still, insiders confirmed the departures, which they said stemmed from fears that the pending merger between AOL and Time Warner would render the site superfluous in the face of AOL’s established entertainment content and brand name. Such fears were hardly quelled when a restructuring put Entertaindom back under the Warner Bros. corporate umbrella — reporting to Kevin Tsujihara, exec VP of new media — and Time Warner backed away from an earlier decision to spin off the division and take it public. “There had been a memo sent that outlined what the equity participation of the people involved would be,” said one disappointed insider. “And the next Monday the AOL merger was announced.”

Other Entertaindom employees seem to be taking matters more in stride. “We’re still doing what we’re doing, which is to aim to be a state-of-the-art presentation of entertainment on the Web,” says senior editorial programmer Carl Arrington. “And [Warner Bros. head] Barry Meyer came by the other day to calm the troops.”

Indeed, it appears to be business as usual at the website. “They’re still featuring our production prominently,” says Mondo Media CEO John Evershed, whose company produces the weekly animated The God & Devil Show. “We have a 17-episode order from them.”

If Entertaindom hopes to recover from its executive chaos, it can take inspiration from the example of rival webcaster Digital Entertainment Network (www.den.net). That company was buffeted last year by the departure of founder Marc Collins-Rector after he settled a lawsuit alleging a sexual relationship with a minor (a charge he denies) and unflattering press about its spendthrift ways. “After all the attention of the last year, we’re just trying to keep our heads down and do good work,” says DEN’s new chairman, Gary Gersh, a former Capitol Records president who leads the company with new CEO Greg Carpenter, an ex-Microsoft executive. “We’ve learned from our mistakes; we’ve lowered salaries and let some people go.”

As with Entertaindom, Gersh attributes many of DEN’s woes to a prospective IPO, since withdrawn. “We never got to be a start-up company,” he says. “Some people got so wrapped up with the IPO that it became the focus more than building a solid company [was].” DEN’s previous strategy was to produce original live-action Web “shows” aimed at niche audiences from rave kids to Christian teens. “Their initial strategy of creating their own content never did make a lot of sense to me,” says John Geirland, whose book Digital Babylon chronicles the rise and fall of an earlier wave of online entertainment networks. “Now they’ve essentially turned the clock back.”