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Sony rolls out music, gaming site

Capitalizing on the popularity of its brands, Sony Online launches a site with channels much like those on cable TV.

Capitalizing on the popularity of its brands, Sony Online launched a site today with channels akin to cable TV.

The test site, Station@sony.com, hosts interactive games like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune; a 24-hour online music channel called Siren, with audio and artist interview feeds; Soap City, a site for daytime TV fans with chat and updates, and Wonderland, a "safe" place for kids to play games.

Sony will face well-established and fresh competitors on all fronts, but online analysts say Sony doesn't need to dominate one content area to succeed. Instead, Sony will play off its well-known products from a variety of mediums to drive traffic for its national advertisers such as Microsoft, Sears, Roebuck, American Airlines, and Pontiac-General Motors.

"It's definitely a viable product and package," said Seema Chowdhury an analyst for Forrester Research. "Sony has a couple of great brands on the site. Who doesn't want to play Jeopardy on the Web or Wheel of Fortune?"

"Sony won't own the online music or daytime soap market," she added, "but those people will be drawn to Sony's site as one of several sites they visit."

Sony and its marketing partner Visa, will vie for market share from a variety of Webertainment venues.

The online music sector, for example, is already an aggressive area. Last week, JamTV Music Network, which will allow users to log on and hear music from their favorite artists, as well as "Webcasts" of live concerts and backstage interviews, announced it will launch on March 31. MTV and Yahoo are also planning to enter the market soon with guide to music sites on the Web. Veterans like Geffen Records and the Internet Underground Music Archive already offer music clips and CD sales via the Net.

There also already are numerous free and for-charge sites dedicated to multiple and single player games, with brand power from the arcade sector such as SegaSoft Heat and Total Entertainment Network, Mpath Interactive, and, as of today, Microsoft, which relaunched its Internet Gaming Zone. Sony said today that it will launch a "pay-for-play" portion on the site in the future.

Sony, however, will be more of a clearing house that will offer visitors a "StationPass" that allows them to communicate with other pass holders while playing a game or surfing the site.

"The StationPass is a unique two-way communication technology on the Web...The StationPass builds a two-way dialog and sense of community through real-time messaging from Passholders and announcements from The Station itself," Mark Benerofe, vice president of Programming, Sony Online Ventures, said in today's announcement.

Sony's advertisers are already banking on the sites success. Sony Online said it has already rounded up $1 million in advertising revenue this year.