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PointCast goes to college

A new version of the company's push service aims to build on its core audience of corporate workers.

PointCast is trying to expand the market for its "push" technology beyond its core audience of corporate workers.

Industry sources say the company is creating a special version of its information broadcasting service called PointCast College Network, aimed at, obviously enough, college students. Although the service won't go live until the fall, PointCast plans to publicly demonstrate the service sometime in June and could announce it as early as tomorrow, the sources said.

The move to serve college students more directly could be a smart one for PointCast. The estimated 14 million U.S. students spend billions of dollars every year on everything from mountain bikes to books to concert tickets. College students are also a highly computer-literate group, often with dedicated Internet access from campus computer centers or dormitory rooms.

Because PointCast makes its money almost exclusively from ads, a qualified audience of college students that is immediately accessible could be very attractive to advertisers. It could be equally attractive to student groups that want to promote events or universities that want to broadcast class catalogue changes. And with the push market it pioneered becoming increasingly competitive, PointCast is also under pressure to increase its audience.

PointCast's client software allows users to automatically tune in to broadcasts of sports scores and financial data--accompanied by advertisements--rather than having to manually venture out to Web sites. In addition to the regular menu of information providers, such as the New York Times and CNN, PointCast College Network will contain five channels dedicated to college news, areas of academic interest, and extracurricular activities like music, sources said.

One of the channels will be produced by University Wire, a service that aggregates news stories from over 120 college newspapers.

Universities and colleges will be able to purchase their own PointCast servers, known as I-Servers, which allow them to customize channels with their own information, sources said.

The company is facing increasing competition from Netscape Communications, which yesterday posted the first public beta version of its Netcaster push software. PointCast will also compete with Microsoft to a certain extent, but the two companies have cut a deal that will make PointCast's channels accessible from Internet Explorer 4.0.

A PointCast spokeswoman would not comment on PointCast College Network.