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Starwave may spur "push wars"

It may be Starwave, not Star Wars, that ends up starting the ultimate battle on the Internet.

Net surfers may witness something akin to the network TV wars this spring when Internet media company Starwave enters the fray of "push" broadcasting.

That's when Starwave will introduce Starwave Direct, a home-brewed push technology and information service that will broadcast news, sports scores, and other information from Starwave's growing armada of media properties, including ESPNet, Mr. Showbiz, and Outside Online.

And because it will provide a lineup of well-known media brands, Starwave Direct will heat up the competition for PointCast, BackWeb, and other companies that are aggregating content into Internet broadcasting networks.

Like other push technologies, Starwave Direct will automatically splash news headlines and other data onto users' screens at regular intervals throughout the day, rather than requiring them to venture out into the Web. This method of distributing content is generating excitement among publishers, as well as advertisers, who view it as a way of cutting through the glut of information online.

Starwave has developed its own client software in Java for tuning in to broadcasts, but Starwave Direct will also integrate with forthcoming push technologies from Netscape Communications and Microsoft called Constellation and the Active Desktop, respectively, according to Patrick Naughton, vice president of technology at Starwave. The Starwave Direct will also work independently of those technologies.

A beta version of Starwave Direct will be available within the next four to six weeks, Naughton said.

Starwave Direct represents the first time that a media company has jumped into the Internet broadcasting arena with a collection of original Web content. In contrast, PointCast offers a menu of publications produced by other publishers, such as Wired Ventures and the New York Times.

Today, Naughton said Starwave did not partner with PointCast because the company takes a share of advertising revenues on the Internet "channels" it broadcasts. By creating its own network of channels, Starwave will also be able to add new content whenever it pleases.

Naughton said he chose not to use software from another push company, Marimba, so he could have more say over the broadcasting technology. "Mostly it's an issue of control," he said. "I'd rather control and have access to source code."

Some analysts think that some larger media companies such as Starwave may opt to go with their own broadcast networks so that they have more control over their revenues and the look and feel of their channels.

"It's not very attractive for many companies to share ad revenues," said John Robb, a senior analyst with Forrester Research. "Often times these [push broadcasting networks] have very rigid interface requirements."

Still, other analysts believe that the hype surrounding push technology is overblown.

"There are too many people that are thinking about this as a way to get advertisements in front of office workers," said Jerry Michalski, managing editor of industry newsletter Release 1.0. "Corporate IT managers have figured out that that's not such a good idea. They have better things to do than to condition their employees to watch ads."

Starwave is owned by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, who is also an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.