A battle of media titans is under way as internet search engine Google and cable TV operator Comcast unite in an attempt to to heist a slice of America Online.

Their talks with AOL parent Time Warner threaten to undermine joint messaging venture negotiations currently under way between the web portal and software behemoth Microsoft's MSN brand [WAMN: 19-Sept-05].

This latest move, with a potential $5 billion (€4.15bn; £2.85bn) price tag, would marry TW's programming and Google's search and email services with Comcast's high-speed internet portal; also its experience in cable video distribution and telecommunications.

Google and Comcast would gain access to AOL's 112 million US visitors to its websites, luring all-important advertising revenues. The alliance would also create a powerful challenge to number one internet service provider Yahoo.

The benefits to TW would rebuff critics among its investors - not least the increasingly fierce broadsides launched by billionaire financier Carl Icahn [WAMN: 12-Oct-05].

Talks are still in their infancy and could stall but it appears Comcast and Google would seek a 50% stake in AOL web businesses, with TW retaining a controlling interest.

Microsoft's negotiations with AOL are much further along the road. Says one unnamed source: "Microsoft has had a head start. There have been deal terms and term sheets."

All parties involved are remaining zip-lipped and unwilling to comment on "rumoured conversations".

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff