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Dancing Baby available for a song

Baby Cha Cha, the dancing digital TV star that got its start on the Net, can be used by any company for the price of two software products.

For someone who doesn't physically exist, Baby Cha Cha has been very busy lately.

Recently, the baby--a phenomenon limited to the Net until early this year--has been spotted shimmying around in his (that's a gender-neutral "his") signature fashion, holding a videotape, on commercials for Blockbuster Video.

The Baby, "born" at software company Kinetix to demonstrate its Character Studio animation product, got his first big break with a role as a manifestation of the title character's ticking biological clock in the hit Fox TV series Ally McBeal on January 5. He has been making guest appearances on that show ever since.

All the exposure begs the question: What's next? Guest spots on the Tonight Show?

Yes, if Jay Leno wants to license Character Studio and Kinetix's 3D animation software, 3D Studio Max, according to Melisa Bell, spokeswoman for Kinetix. She said anyone who wants to use the baby for any reason can do so simply by purchasing the products. Character Studio costs $1,000, and 3D Studio Max goes for $3,495, Bell said.

There are a couple of caveats, however. The file with the baby must be modified in some way--the exact image as it exists may not be used--and the image has to stay in digital format.

The latter means the baby can't show up on T-shirts or other consumer products without a separate license from Kinetix and Logotel, a Maryland company that handles licensing arrangements and distribution for the merchandise surrounding entertainment properties and cartoon characters.

Bell also said the company is open to anyone that wants to use Baby Cha Cha as a minor character in a TV show or to help sell products--but it draws the line at a cartoon series or video game based on him, for example.

It is surprising, however, that a major company such as Blockbuster--which is a subsidiary of media behemoth Viacom--would use the dancing baby for its commercials, knowing that any other company could do the same with no more barrier to entry than a $4,500 investment in the software and a little time and know-how to alter the image.

A spokesperson for Blockbuster could not be reached for comment.

The case of the dancing baby is a clear sign of just how mainstream the Net is becoming. Blockbuster is known for being conservative in terms of its business practices--for example, the company's franchises do not carry adult movies, including those with an NC-17 rating.

Even though some think of the Net as a clearinghouse for pornography and hate speech, the company chose a character that came from the Net to showcase in its commercials. Moreover, Blockbuster is banking on the hope that either Johnny Q. Public will know and recognize Baby Cha Cha, or he will be attracted to the digital tot.

For its part, Kinetix is happy to have the baby out there dancing and hopefully selling the software in the process.

"It's hard to tell if [the baby] has impacted the sales," Bell said. "But it put Kinetix on the map. [Kinetix] has become a household name because of this little baby."

Fans of Baby Cha Cha can download samples of his talents on Blockbuster's or Kinetix's Web sites.

Kinetix is the multimedia business unit of design software firm Autodesk.