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CMGI bets viewers will laugh at new site

The Internet holding company is doubling down on its iCast Web entertainment bet, staking a new claim on Internet comedy even as some competitors are pulling their chips from the table.

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CMGI is doubling down on its iCast Web entertainment bet, staking a new claim on Internet comedy even as some competitors are pulling their chips from the table.

iCast today said it plans to add a comedy site to its offerings, which already include short films and animation, music and video clips, and other entertainment-oriented content.

As previously reported, the service, iCast Comedy, aims to become a hub for all things funny. That includes offering a database of jokes, animation clips, live-action video, Web radio features and other tidbits that can be downloaded, streamed and emailed.

Executives said the site will target 18- to 24-year-olds and will attempt to present a more irreverent, edgy attitude than other entertainment Web sites.

Several sites, such as AtomFilms, Icebox and Ifilm, carry original films and animation features that can be viewed online. iCast executives said the new service will prey on audiences with shorter attention spans and will offer more interactivity.

"Rather than having a lot of long-form streaming content, we will be featuring material that's much, much shorter and more easily digestible," said Brian Murphy, CEO of iCast Comedy.

The unit will initially launch a promotional site in mid-October and undergo a 25-city college tour. iCast Comedy has signed comedian Janeane Garofalo as its spokeswoman; she will make appearances during the tour and host her own radio show through the site.

The expansion of iCast's offerings comes as a growing list of online entertainment ventures experience hard times. Pop.com, an online entertainment start-up backed by Hollywood heavyweights Stephen Spielberg and Ron Howard, announced this week that it is shutting its doors before launching.

Shockwave.com, which also hosts animation and music clips, said this week that it will lay off 20 of its 170 employees to concentrate on interactive games and films.

Malcolm Maclachlan, an analyst at International Data Corp., said programming entertainment on the Web remains at a disadvantage because the medium does not have the get-together rituals of television. This basic element could be one explanation for certain shortcomings.

"Who's going to sit in a big group around a computer?" he asked. "The screen's small, and you have to be at a particular distance for it to look right. People aren't ready to embrace this type of content through their PCs."

Despite online entertainment's troubled track record, iCast Comedy executives said the business model is well-oiled. The site already counts Hyundai, Salon Selectives and Listerine as sponsors. iCast Comedy will be featured on AltaVista, also a CMGI-owned company, as the site's comedy channel. The College Television Network will also broadcast a weekly iCast Comedy feature.

Lara Stein, iCast Comedy's president, added that the site will have an edge over the other troubled entertainment Web businesses because it is taking a more Net-centric approach to its service.

"They were based on old models rather than looking at new models," Stein said, referring to the sunken entertainment sites.

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