Bertelsmann chief steps down from AOL board

Bertelsmann AG chief Thomas Middelhoff yesterday resigned from America Online Inc.'s board of directors.

In a statement yesterday, Middelhoff, who is chairman and CEO of the German media company, said it is inappropriate to continue on AOL's board as a result of the merger with Bertelsmann competitor Time Warner Inc. Middelhoff's board seat will be filled by AOL Vice Chairman Kenneth Novack, AOL said.

The move doesn't come as a surprise. When AOL and Time Warner announced their merger two weeks ago, Middelhoff told local media that he would likely step down as a result. But Bertelsmann also issued a statement after the merger was announced noting that Middelhoff voted in favor of the Time Warner merger while on the board there.

AOL and Bertelsmann have a 50-50 joint venture in AOL Europe. It has 3 million members in nine countries and includes the brands AOL and CompuServe, as well as the recently launched Netscape Online service in the U.K.

Bertelsmann and AOL also have a 50-50 joint venture in Australia.

Bertelsmann at one time had roughly a 5% share in AOL but has reduced that more recently to less than 1%, Bertelsmann spokesman Marcus Payer said in a telephone interview in early January.

Bertelsmann has also continued to pursue its own online strategies in Europe, such as launching Books Online International, a series of online bookselling sites across Europe.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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