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ABC joins online news fray

Today's announced alliance among ABC News, Starwave, and America Online escalates the online war among the media giants.

Today's announced alliance among ABC News, Starwave, and America Online (AOL) escalates the online war among the media giants.

Dubbed ABCNews.com, the online news service will provide up-to-the-minute national, international, and local news as well as complete sports, entertainment, business, and technology news when it launches later this month.

"Now, more Americans than ever will benefit from our branded news content, real-time and on-demand," said ABC News chairman Roone Arledge. "AOL's success in penetrating the mass market makes it all the more attractive for us to develop customized programming for its extensive membership base," he added.

At launch, ABCNews.com expects 16 million daily visitors, 12 million from America Online and 4 million from Netscape.

ABCNews.com expands ABC's relationship with America Online. ABC News will be AOL's premier television and radio news provider, giving AOL members a custom version of ABCNews.com. ABC News and AOL will also extensively cross-promote ABCNews.com on the air and online.

As part of its partnership with AOL, ABC will develop daily multimedia news slide shows exclusively for AOL, focusing on the breaking domestic and international news of the day. In addition, ABC will develop weekly events on AOL, including live chats featuring ABC News correspondents.

The new digital keiretsu joins other established alliances, such as MSNBC (a partnership of Microsoft and NBC) and CBS and SportsLine USA.

Analysts expect more to come. "We see a handful of very strong camps setting up these digital alliances," said Adam Schoenfeld, an analyst with Jupiter Communiations. "They're shaping up in a fairly orderly fashion right now to do battle across platforms."

While singular Web sites fight among themselves for market share, these alliances will allow each of the media companies to leverage their other properties.

"It's a cross-platform battle for consumer attention," Schoenfeld added. "There's only 24 hours in a day for an individual consumer to take in media. So you have these camps setting up to direct traffic among their allied properties. "Cross-media promotion will be a huge advantage for new media publishers."

You see that even now, he said, when "every ABC golf telecast refers you back to AOL."

Broadcast stations aren't the only ones moving to the Web. Newspapers have been putting their material online since the Internet took off.

And even though media companies aren't necessarily seeing dollar signs on the Internet horizon, when it comes down to business, they don't really have any choice. According to Paul Grabowicz, a visiting fellow in new media at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, media operations must either launch on the Net or risk being left behind.

"This is part of a much broader movement by all kinds of media onto the Web," he said. "I'd say it's an important investment and a necessary investment. What the outcome is going to be nobody knows yet.

"Nobody's doing this because someone's come up with a business model where they figure, 'If we do X, Y, and Z, we're going to make a profit,'" Grabowicz added. "It's much more of a defensive kind of thing."

Schoenfeld agreed. He added that television stations learned their lessons back in the days of cable by looking at CBS. "If you do nothing, you end up like CBS, which doesn't own a valuable cable franchise. You just have to. No one wants to get left behind."