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GM, Disney take Net content on the road

The big automaker links its OnStar division with the Walt Disney Internet Group to deliver, and content to subscribers' car stereos.

    General Motors announced an agreement Tuesday linking its satellite communications division with the Walt Disney Internet Group to deliver, and content to subscribers' car stereos.

    OnStar's 1.3 million subscribers will now have access to select Disney content, such as's Sports Center Update, by saying "Get my Sports Center Update" into speakers tucked into a vehicle's headliner, the material tucked beneath the car's roof. They may also fill out an online form to receive updates at specified intervals. programs available to OnStar subscribers include Sports Center Update, Extra Point Commentary, Sports for Kids and Sports Beat Commentary by Brent Musberger. programs include hourly headline news reports, Sports Scores and News, the World News Tonight audiocast and Bill Diehl's Entertainment News. will provide child-oriented fun facts and safety tips.

    The expanded content comes as GM's OnStar subsidiary actively researches whether customers will accept location-based commercials from banks, gasoline stations, movie theaters and retailers while in their vehicles. So-called push advertisements, beamed via a wireless network and overriding a driver's stereo system, are becoming part of OnStar's "Virtual Advisor"--an automated, cellular-based concierge service offered as an option on most GM vehicles since January.

    Marketing experts at GM and elsewhere say customers will be most likely to accept such ads if they are surrounded by highly desirable, customized content. Revenue from location-based wireless services in North America will increase more than 100-fold to $3.9 billion by 2004, according to The Strategis Group, and GM wants to be the pre-eminent player in the emerging field.

    Push ads could also allow advertisers to subsidize and significantly lower the cost of onboard navigation and concierge systems. Although navigation systems and onboard cellular services are relatively common in Japan, American customers have been far less willing to pay for the services. OnStar, which is available on most GM, Lexus, Acura, Audi and Subaru vehicles, costs about $200 to $400 annually.

    OnStar began delivering the Disney content Tuesday via the 7-month-old Virtual Advisor, which also delivers traffic updates, news and stock market information over the GPS (Global Positioning System) satellite network. Troy, Mich.-based OnStar also provides automatic notification of air bag deployment to nearby police and hospitals, stolen vehicle tracking, remote door unlock, remote diagnostics, route support, OnStar concierge, and convenience services.

    Virtual Advisor subscribers receive customized, Web-based information through voice recognition and text-to-speech technology. Complying with a GM policy forbidding extraneous screens or buttons for dashboard communications, all OnStar services are completely voice-activated and do not require the driver to touch or look at screens or displays.

    The deal also help's Disney's Internet unit expand its reach from desktop computers. The program is expected to become popular with sports and news junkies and parents looking for non-obtrusive ways to entertain their children on the road.

    "We are always looking for ways to reach our audience in a more ubiquitous manner so that people can access our resources outside of their desktop, in a way that's most convenient for them," Larry Shapiro, executive vice president of the Walt Disney Internet Group, said in a statement.