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Microsoft brands itself to WebTV

The Microsoft brand name already is displayed somewhere on most desktop PCs, and now it shows up on TV--WebTV, that is.

The Microsoft brand name already is displayed somewhere on most desktop PCs, and now it is showing up on TV--WebTV, that is.

Microsoft completed its buyout of WebTV, the dominant provider of Net access through a television set-top box, a year ago for $425 million. But the software giant has kept an uncharacteristically low branding profile, at least where WebTV's marketing is concerned.

Now that's changing. Users of WebTV's original Internet terminal who download a personalization program being offered to its customers now see the Microsoft name brandished across the screen when they log on. It reads "Microsoft WebTV."

The new display is a reminder of Microsoft's growing clout in this burgeoning market where television and personal computing intersect.

"I think it's because it has a strong brand name with consumers," a WebTV spokesman said, explaining the decision to add the Microsoft name.

Among desktop computer consumers, however, the Microsoft brand and software icons have not always been welcome. In fact, control over what users see on the screen when they first turn on their computers, or the "first boot," has drawn the scrutiny of government regulators who have filed antitrust suits against the software giant.

Microsoft's buyout of WebTV cleared antitrust examinations, including a lengthly review by the Justice Department. Some analysts have speculated that regulators may be looking into the WebTV deal again, but government officials have declined to comment on the issue.

The upgrade also includes "surf spots," ads that appear when a page is loading. These ads are "consumer-friendly," WebTV contends, because they don't slow down the browser.

The surf spots first appeared last year, but were temporarily dropped. WebTV increasingly has been adding ads to its service.

The personalization feature lets users customize stock quotes, sports, weather, and other information.

At last count, WebTV had 400,000 subscribers.