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Studios Take Divergent Paths to Infobahn

BURLINGAME, CA--At a meeting sponsored by the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) trade group held here, a panel of studio heads representing Sony, Disney Interactive, Columbia Television, Universal Television/MCA Incorporated, Fox Interactive, and Paramount Television Group outlined their respective plans for melding Web sites, existing programming and movies, and software. Not surprisingly, no two companies are taking the same approach.

The main focus for Burbank, California-based Disney Interactive is to create games featuring Disney characters with outside developers. On the cyberspace front, the company is gearing up to roll out Disney Family Online in late 1996 and early 1997. The plan to launch the subscription-based service was revealed two months ago, according to Marc Teren, vice president of entertainment for Disney Interactive.

Dreamworks' director of software engineering, Matt Brown, says his company currently has eight interactive products in development.

Fox Interactive is concentrating on offering entertainment for a variety of platforms including the Web, PCs, and gaming systems from Nintendo and Sega. "What we're looking for is something we can take somewhere else [within Fox]. One-of products are not an area we're interested in," says Paul Provenzano, executive director of product development at Fox.

Fox Interactive also plans to expand its Simpsons-based products, says Provenzano. In 1996 the unit will launch Virtual Springfield, a virtual reality CD-ROM title that will let you explore the Simpsons' hometown, interact with characters, and manipulate objects.

Original content is the primary focus at Paramount Television Group, which recently developed a Web site called Women's Link in conjunction with Bristol-Myers Squibb. The goal is to provide advertising space for the pharmaceutical company and lure more women online. "One of their criteria was to make sure that the site and its content could be moved to other media, possibly TV," says Richard Glosser, senior vice president of interactive programming for Columbia TriStar Television.

Paramount is focusing on original content, and officials there are convinced that content will drive the medium. The evolutionary trail that leads to interactive programming will not be without its casualties, however. Says David Wertheimer, president of Paramount Digital Entertainment, "As we get closer to the holy grail of interactive programming, the Net will become less egalitarian. For one thing, production values are already making costs increase." Wertheimer came to Paramount from Oracle, the database kingpin.

Over at Universal Television, the goal is to use the Web to entice "disaffected TV viewers" away from the PC and over to the boob tube to watch specific syndicated shows produced by the company. Ned Nalle, executive vice president for Universal Television views the Web sites as "channels" currently used primarily for marketing. "Basically we're using it to drive more viewers to their TV sets. We're using a device for people who don't want to watch TV, to draw them to a medium they don't like. And these are precisely the people advertisers are trying to reach," says Nalle.