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WebTV wires hotel suites

OnCommand and WebTV are teaming up to bring customized Net access to hotel rooms.

OnCommand Corporation and WebTV Networks are teaming up to bring customized Net access to hotel rooms nationwide.

The goal is to jointly create a new version of the WebTV online service that's customized for hotels. The package will include unlimited Web access, chat rooms, SurfWatch filtering software, and a content site for children called "Kid-Friendly."

For WebTV, the deal marks its first foray into a commercial market. It is a potentially lucrative one: Nearly half of frequent business travelers and one-third of frequent leisure travelers already use online services. Until now, WebTV's product, which lets users surf the Web from their TVs for less than $400, has been aimed at home users.

For its part, OnCommand recently has been striking partnerships to expand its service, including a deal with Bell Atlantic for electronic yellow pages and one with Sony to play video games on its PlayStations.

The companies will begin their venture by testing the service in San Francisco Bay Area hotels.

"Together we want to offer customized content to enhance the guest's stay and provide added value to our client hotels," said OnCommand chief executive Robert Kavner. Kavner joined OnCommand last year after stints as an interactive consultant at Creative Artists Agency and executive vice president of AT&T.

Added Steve Perlman, chief executive of WebTV: "The trial builds upon our established brand equity, allow us to reach both business people and vacationers."

In a telephone briefing, the companies said they hadn't settled on a pricing plan. They are looking at pricing on a per-night basis or on a usage basis like ISPs.

OnCommand already provides television services to more than 1 million hotel rooms. The San Jose Hilton will be the first test site, Kavner added.

OnCommand is not the only one cutting deals with hotel chains. In a related deal, the 4th Network and Mobedshani Hotel Group announced that they also plan to provide in-room Internet access at some hotels in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Staff writer Courtney Macavinta contributed to this report.