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Sprint, Blockbuster cut access deal

Sprint and Blockbuster Entertainment make a deal to distribute branded software for Internet access at the retail chain's 3,200 outlets nationwide.

Sprint (FON) and Blockbuster Entertainment today announced a deal to distribute branded software for Internet access at the retail chain's 3,200 outlets nationwide, confirming a report last month by CNET.

The companies will offer 1.5 million CD-ROMS with custom Net access software, including Netscape Navigator and, expected soon, Microsoft Explorer. It also will include a Net navigational site that relies on search engine Lycos .

The software doesn't cost anything, but it does require the purchase or rental of a video from Blockbuster. The package comes with 30 free days of Net access, and later this month will let users buy music online.

As previously reported, the deal, among the largest of its kind, is another example of how entertainment companies are getting into the Net access business. In this case, Sprint struck a broad alliance with Viacom (Blockbuster's parent) last month to develop branded Internet access products, although they offered no specifics.

Telephone companies including Sprint, AT&T, MCI, Pacific Bell, and Bell Atlantic and ISPs such as Netcom are in a heated battle to distribute their branded Net access products.

Other entertainment giants are following suit. British billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Group plans to launch an online service later this month. The Walt Disney Company is expected to offer its own Net access early next year, taking on Microsoft Network and America Online.

"Blockbuster can be every family's ticket to the entertainment experiences available on the Internet," said Tom Byrne, Blockbuster's vice chairman.

Added Robba Benjamin, president of Sprint Multimedia Group: "This relationship makes it as simple as possible to get our Internet access software because Blockbuster has stores within four miles of 80 percent of the U.S. population. This agreement marks an approach to the consumer marketplace that no other ISP has taken."