AOL, alas, not to change name to TMZ

When Brian Alvey, the cofounder of Weblogs Inc. and a former AOL executive, suggested that AOL change its name to TMZ, the popular gossip blog it owns a stake in, I took it as the throwaway joke it was. But now, some idiot named Bill Hartzer on InternetFinancialNews.com appears to be taking Alvey seriously. For anyone else equally lacking in both sense of humor and sense, let me 'splain something to you. Alvey's idea is, of course, brilliant. But it's not going to happen.

For one thing, AOL doesn't really own TMZ. It's a joint venture between AOL and a unit of Warner Bros. While the venture itself is a rare example of co-operation between warring branches of the Time Warner media conglomerate, it's unlikely that Warner Bros. would ever let go of the brand. Time Warner lore has it that when the cable division first proposed using Warner's Road Runner character as the name for its high-speed Internet product, Warner asked for a billion-dollar license fee.

And TMZ, while popular and growing, unlike most of AOL's services, is too narrow a brand, ultimately, to cover AOL's full range of services. (TMZ refers to Hollywood's "thirty-mile zone" enshrined in studio contracts.)

And finally, Warner is launching a "TMZ" television series this fall. It's running on News Corp.-owned Fox stations, and it's hard to imagine News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch tolerating his TV broadcasts promoting services which compete with MySpace.

No, what Alvey didn't mention — but would make more sense — would be to free TMZ from its warring parents, and all their conflicts. With 9.4 million unique visitors a month, TMZ could easily stand on its own. Forget an AOL spinoff. Bring on the TMZ spinoff.