Services go after masses

The top two online services, America Online and CompuServe try to upstage each other to win the hearts and modems of mainstream America.

The top two online services, America Online and CompuServe, tried to upstage each other today to win the hearts and modems of mainstream America.

AOL's play, which includes a marketing initiative that will cost more than $100 million this quarter, focuses on its "reinvention" as a service that caters not only to the needs of first-time users but also to those of people who are Internet-savvy. Tonight, AOL is launching its new television commercial, set to the tune of the futuristic cartoon, "The Jetsons," on the four major networks.

The commercial is designed to appeal to both new users and members who have tried AOL and left. The online service will also be be sending out videos to existing members and putting together an infomercial.

The ultimate goal? "To enable AOL to be the leader now and forever," AOL chief Steve Case said.

CompuServe, meanwhile, has officially launched CompuServe 3.0, its own push into America's mainstream. The new interface purports to make the service as well as the Internet much easier to navigate. CompuServe 3.0 integrates the Internet with the online service so that the user can jump from CompuServe's content to the Internet without even having to know that this is what they're doing.

"CompuServe is breaking down the barriers between the commercial online service and the Internet like no other company in this industry," said Bob Massey, president and CEO.

Brian Oakes, an analyst with Lehman Brothers, said both AOL and CompuServe have the right idea by going after the mainstream market.

"The big home-run market is the next 20, 30 million people that come online," he said. "The things that brought the first 10 million online aren't going to be the same things that bring the next 30 million online."

Oakes even thinks that CompuServe is likely to benefit from AOL's marketing campaign even though it has delayed its own marketing push. He thinks the new mainstream user is looking for a simple interface, simple installation, simple pricing, and a lot of support.

"Simple is going to be the key word," he said.

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