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Starwave to try selling Web tools

The Internet publisher of ESPN SportsZone and, among others, plans to license the publishing tools for its sites.

SAN DIEGO--Internet publisher Starwave, which runs the popular ESPN SportsZone and among 13 online properties in its stable, said today it plans to license the publishing tools for its sites to other Web publishers.

A five-product suite is being prepared for sale, but the company hasn't decided whether all will be licensed to rival publishers, according to Starwave president Patrick Naughton, who acknowledged that today's announcement is something of a trial balloon.

"We are constantly getting asked if we would sell them [Starwave's publishing tools]," he said today at the Internet Showcase conference here.

The five tools in the suite handle Web publishing, e-commerce (including subscription management as at SportsZone's premium service), ad management, Web traffic analysis, and database management.

Starwave is mulling a move into the tools market where players include another company appearing at--and cosponsoring--this technology conference: Vignette. The firm's tools were initially developed at CNET (publisher of NEWS.COM) but are now supported, advanced, and marketed by Vignette.

But Naughton sees Microsoft as Starwave's biggest potential rival, which is ironic because Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen owns a controlling interest in Starwave. (Allen also is a shareholder in CNET: The Computer Network.) Walt Disney, which owns ABC and other media properties with Internet sites, is a minority owner.

"Microsoft will [compete] by acquisition," Naughton said, pointing to the software giant's deal last year to buy Interse, a site traffic measurement firm. He speculated that Microsoft might also buy an ad management software company like Accipiter or a publishing systems firm like Vignette.

Naughton added Starwave may license some but not all five elements of its suite. Decisions on configurations and pricing are due before April.

Starwave's publishing software is being rewritten now for use by Starwave and its publishing partners, so selling it commercially essentially entails only sales and marketing costs. "It's really found money for us," Naughton noted.

Although pricing has not been set, the minimum price of the entire suite would run around $100,000, according to Naughton. The system, due for release in the fall, is written in Java and runs on Windows NT and Solaris. Naughton worked with Sun Microsystems' Java team before he went to Starwave.

Starwave's tool strategy will hinge not only on market demand and sales and marketing execution, but also on how the company feels about letting rival publishers use its technology. That may, for example, prove troubling to Disney.

In partnerships with ESPN and ABC, Starwave also produces Mr. Showbiz, Outside Online, and official sites of the NBA, NFL, NASCAR, and WNBA.