Do telephone companies and newspapers go together in creating a new force on the Net, marrying the papers' local content with the phone carriers' big distribution network?
That may sound like heresy to purists or to those worried about media monopolies, but it's happening nonetheless. And to these companies, at least, it makes good business sense.
Today, Pacific Bell Internet Services announced a joint marketing pact with the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, a Northern California daily newspaper owned by the New York Times, to advertise the telephone company's Net access package.
In return, PacBell's online customers will be able to link to both the Press Democrat site for local news, providing Web exposure for the paper. The phone company will also provide links to a new publication called Sonoma Traveler, an online magazine devoted to travel, lifestyle, and recreation in Sonoma County.
Some purists wonder whether the arrangements will affect editorial coverage of the telephone company, a concern played down by all firms involved. The deal comes on the heels of similar ones struck with the Los Angeles Times and Sacramento Bee.
PacBell, the seventh-largest Baby Bell, says the deal makes sense because the newspapers, not the telephone company, is expert in local information.
Indeed, telephone companies have had rough going in the content business. As reported last month, AT&T said it would close its Personal Online Services Group that was working on a local content service called the Home Town Network.
The company decided that it would take too much effort and money to roll out nationally. The service was being tested in Sacramento with 100 volunteers. Forty workers who were involved will be transferred to other jobs at AT&T.
Bell Atlantic, another Baby Bell, also is aggressively moving into the Net access market but has yet to strike any content deals with newspapers. Unlike Pac Bell, its territory spans several states, making such an arrangement more difficult to accomplish.
As reported last week, Sprint and Blockbuster Entertainment are expected to announce a deal to distribute free branded software starting next month at the retail chain's outlets nationwide, allowing users to surf the Net, buy music, and perhaps even purchase videos online from Blockbuster.