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Microsoft plays in Hollywood's court

Word on the Sunset Strip is that the software giant is beefing up its team of schmoozers in Hollywood and New York to score deals with the big content companies.

    Everybody wants to be in the pictures. I took last week off myself for a trip to Hollywood to chat with my agent, who's trying to rekindle interest in "The Skinny DuBaud Story," a modest biopic I penned at the height of the Internet's salad days.

    My three-day weekend locked in Yahoo's basement is as good as any Bruce Willis mega-thriller. But the studios, blind as they are to a good story, still aren't answering our calls. Maybe their execs are taking meetings with bigger fish.

    Word on the Sunset Strip is that Microsoft is trying to tighten its ties to Hollywood and the big content companies. Skinformants say the company is hiring close to a dozen top schmoozers, half in Hollywood, half in New York, to bring the deals home.

    What kind of deals isn't exactly clear, although there's buzz on that front too. Microsoft has ardently wooed record labels and other content companies to use its Windows Media technology for their online services. Now rumors paint the software giant in shades of envy--of RealNetworks' RealOne subscription service.

    A Skinformant says Microsoft is considering a content subscription plan of its own that's more extensive than simply carrying the Pressplay paid music service on its Web site. A new service could even be built into the Windows Media Player, much the way Real has made its subscription plans and basic video player almost impossible to wrest apart.

    I don't know about others in Web-land, but I'd certainly pay a few dollars a month to get new installments of le grand singe Steve Ballmer stomping his way around a public stage.

    A Microsoft representative declined to comment on the rumors, other than to note that the company is not in the media business. Meanwhile, no less a personage than Will Poole, head of Microsoft's digital media division, told CNET not long ago that Real's Rob Glaser was losing customer support in his quest to become a media mogul.

    'Tis the season for Microsoft media rumors. My colleagues at Forbes recently repeated some gossip regarding Ballmer & Co. making a play for EMI, the smallest and most beleaguered of the major record labels. Most insiders view that as about as likely as a bid for the U.K.-based tune shop from my chère Grand-mère DuBaud, although she has been a Beatles fan ever since Sir Paul smiled at her that time from the TV.

    Legal eagle takes a nosedive
    Speaking of stuttering careers, the once high-flying San Francisco legal start-up is fading in and out of a series of near-death experiences, Skinsiders say.

    It wasn't long ago that the Web site, which posts legal news from scattered places around the country, was living the dot-com high life: Aeron chairs in front of almost every desk, flat-panel TVs hanging around the office, expensive catered parties.

    Now, after repeated financial bailouts, the great Judge Judy in the sky may finally be ready to bring her hammer down on the struggling For several weeks, American Lawyer Media, the legal publishing giant that gives exclusive online rights to the San Francisco start-up, appeared ready to take the Web site wholly under its own corporate umbrella, Skinsiders say. A deal in the works would have cut loose's RealLegal division, which provided online applications for lawyers, and given ALM control of the legal portal.

    But in the last week that deal was called off, or at least put on hold. The company is still looking for a quick way out, since's books have been on the dot-com diet for far too long.

    ALM declined to comment. A representative pointed to a 2-year-old press release by way of explaining the relationship between the companies. executives didn't return calls for comment.

    Skinsiders say the situation is still fluid and that employees are feeling a little corporate whiplash. Luckily for them, I expect they know a few good lawyers.

    I know a thing a two, but I could still use your rumors.