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Venture Boasts Subscriber, Web Content

Tomorrow when editor in chief Anthea Disney takes the stage at Jupiter Communications' Consumer Internet '96 conference Disney is expected to unveil plans for the joint venture between MCI and News Corp.

When MCI and News Corp announced their online joint venture last August, they launched an accompanying "name that venture" contest to much fanfare. At the time, company officials said a contest winner would be named in a few weeks.

Now, nearly four months later, the venture is still nameless and rudderless, according to industry observers. However, that could change as early as tomorrow when editor in chief Anthea Disney takes the stage at Jupiter Communications' Consumer Internet '96 conference. Disney is expected to unveil plans for the joint venture. The site is scheduled to debut during the first quarter of next year. Earlier this month, Disney told CNET editors that an announcement was imminent. "We'll have a name and everything," said Disney. "Our embarrassment will be over."

According to one MCI/News Corp executive, the venture's start-up process has experienced the usual hiccups along the way. "It is only a joint venture when you actually sign the deal; then you can put the business plan in place," said Scott Kurnit, CEO and president of MCI/News Corp Online, commenting on the perceived delay in getting the service up and running.

"You go through a fair amount of soul-searching as to what works and what doesn't work. This is not a mishmash driven by consensus. We've let some people go--some high-level people go, who are liable to say negative things. The fact is, it takes time, and in a joint venture, getting your ducks lined up before you shoot is a really good idea," Kurnit added.

The joint venture, which employs about 350 people at its New York headquarters, has been stuck in neutral since its initial launch in August."They don't have anything yet," said Rick Spence, an analyst at Dataquest, who specializes in online issues. "Quite simply, they don't have their act together."

According to Kurnit, once the service is fully launched it will include both an open-access Web portion and a subscription-based online offering. "We will be releasing, in short order, a subscription service for the Internet in addition to our free offerings," said Kurnit. Content will be based on "a combination of resources within our own companies, databases from third parties, and as much original content as possible." Both the subscription-based online service and the Web site will be supported by advertising revenue.

The current site features an eclectic mix of info including @fashion, an online fashion magazine, a column by Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf, and the recently revamped official X-Files forum.

"They're still in the creative stage," commented Peter Krasilovsky, principal analyst at Arlen Communications, citing the current array of content on the site as proof.

Once MCI/News Corp Online gets its act together it will be a force to be reckoned with, according to industry analysts. "It is a real player that will compete for the Web site market rather than the online service market," said Krasilovsky. However, Dataquest's Spence is less optimistic: "Talent and power make no difference without a well-executed plan. First they need a plan, and then I think we'll see something eventually."