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Accept taps into its TV image

Months after News Corp. absorbed its online division into its TV operations, the media conglomerate is taking another shot at the Web in an attempt to catch up with rival sports channel ESPN.

Months after News Corp. absorbed its online division into its TV operations, the media conglomerate is taking another shot at the Web in an attempt to catch up with rival sports channel ESPN.

On Friday, the company's Fox Network plans to unveil a redesign for that reflects its TV programming. The new site will sport a flashier appearance with more graphics and video from Fox's sports-related shows.

The changes highlight Fox's attempt to rouse its Internet strategy by treating the Web as an offshoot of television. To date, the network has lagged as rivals including and CBS SportsLine gained popularity online. Walt Disney's topped the list of most-trafficked sports sites in July with 6.6 million unique visitors, according to Jupiter Media Metrix, a Web measurement and analysis company. Major League Baseball's Web site ranked second with 4.7 million visitors, followed by SportsLine with 4.4 million. FoxSports ranked No. 11 with 872,000 visitors.

"They are definitely way behind," said David Card, an analyst at Jupiter Media Metrix. "We've always waited for FoxSports to do something aggressive."

Fox's move to align its online and broadcast efforts comes as many media giants are shunning the idea that the Web should play by different rules than television or print. Companies that once poured money into separate Internet divisions as a way to tap online advertising dollars are now inextricably linking Web efforts to core businesses.

The result has been a push to place online elements in TV programs and to offer video features on Web sites. AOL Time Warner, for example, recently gave its "CNN Headline News" cable TV program a makeover, providing a range of data in multiple screens, as a Web site might, along with the traditional anchor desk.

In the wake of America Online's acquisition of Time Warner, other media companies are taking a harder, more introspective look at their businesses. Disney, for example, is working to bring the online operations of its TV properties back in-house. And earlier this year, NBC acquired its NBC Internet portal for about $85 million in cash to fold the spinoff back into its operations

Like most of its competitors, News Corp. has scaled back its online ambitions. Strapped by high expenses, excessive growth and the rapid deterioration of online ad revenue, News Corp. laid off hundreds of employees and dissolved News Digital Media earlier this year. The division had managed all of its Web sites, including those for Fox's TV stations. Now, each division in Fox manages its own online efforts.

"Three years ago when News Digital Media was formed, it was clearly a way to build a business and take it public," said Ross Levinsohn, senior vice president at FoxSports. Today, "as a standalone business without support from a corporate parent, there's no way you can make this a business."

In turning focus from the Internet, News Corp. Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch has placed the company's future in trying to merge his Sky Global Networks division with Hughes Electronics to create the world's largest satellite TV network. Hughes, owned by General Motors, operates DirecTV, which also runs high-speed Internet service via satellite.

But in many ways, Fox has been an untapped opportunity to make a splash online, given its stake in TV sports. The network has rights to broadcast National Football League games along with Viacom's CBS. Fox also has rights to major events such as the World Series.

With the redesign, FoxSports hopes to rejuvenate its Web site. The new home page will feature the same edgy, robotic graphics shown on Fox sports broadcasts, such as its famous NFL robots, and scale back on text, leaving it largely graphic-heavy.

The new site also will let people personalize the site by entering in a ZIP code to get TV listings for local events shown on Fox's 22 regional cable sports networks. In addition, a daily rotation of editorial columns, video clips from Fox's sports video library, online fantasy sports leagues and features from the broadcaster's on-air personalities will try to keep visitors coming back.

"We're trying to make it more entertaining," Levinsohn said.