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PointCast pays out to keep staff on board

The troubled company offers to pay employees a bonus to keep them at work, while board members and others leave the push pioneer following the departure of chief executive David Dorman.

Following the loss of its high-profile CEO, PointCast is offering a bonus to employees who stay with the company through the month, even as more executives and board members walk out the door.

The offer came after months of rumored acquisition or partnership deals for the struggling Net firm, which needs to find a buyer or deep-pocketed partner if it wants to keep its business alive.

None of the negotiations have borne fruit, however, and the company is now looking for a way to keep its staff on board while talks continue.

"We anticipate a hot deal. But if there is any uncertainty if a deal is not done yet, this is a way to say hold on," said Wendy McCarthy, a PointCast spokeswoman. "And it's absolutely working. When someone says we want you to stay and we'll put forth your salary for another two weeks, [employees] know it's important."

The bonus program was instituted several weeks ago, shortly after chief executive David Dorman announced he was leaving to head a joint venture between AT&T and British Telecommunications. Employees who remain with the company through the end of March will receive the bonus, McCarthy said.

She declined to speculate when an investment or possible acquisition deal would take place.

When Dorman stepped down in early March, he said then that he expected a business deal to be signed within a month. To date, however, no deal has materialized.

PointCast has been looking for a partner since last summer, when it scrapped plans for an initial public offering.

Late last year, the company pinned its hopes on a consortium of telephone companies, with which it hoped to create a national high-speed Internet service linking the telcos' broadband access services with its own content and push technology.

The company went as far as to enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement with the telco consortium until the end of January. Dorman said the company had fully expected to have a deal in place by that time.

But the date came and went without an agreement. And while sources say that PointCast executives are still talking to the phone companies, the chances of a broadband deal being completed look increasingly slim.

Some say the loss of Dorman, whose experience as the head of Pacific Bell made him a prime asset, diminished PointCast's value to the telephone companies. Other sources said the consortium had trouble reaching an agreement among geographically disperse players.

But Dorman said when he stepped down that PointCast also had been approached by Internet companies, and was no longer focusing solely on the telco consortium.

Executive departures
Dorman isn't the only executive to have disappeared from the company's roster in recent weeks.

Jason Douglas, former vice president of products and programming, left sometime last week. He had been with the company since 1995, rising up through the ranks from a product management position.

Lisa Gerould, vice president of advertising, marketing, and brand development, also recently resigned. She had joined the company in 1997 and last year was promoted to her current position.

McCarthy said both executives were highly valued and left to pursue other interests.

Meanwhile, several of the company's most recently named board members have also resigned.

Jeffrey Cunningham, former group publisher of Forbes, Dawn Lepore, chief information officer of Charles Schwab, and Steven Heyer, president and chief operating officer of Turner Broadcasting, have left the eight-member board after having been appointed last summer.

"Dave [Dorman] brought them aboard and they had a relationship with Dave. So when he stepped down, they did too in part because of that relationship and because they're very busy people," McCarthy said.

PointCast will likely wait until an investment or acquisition deal is completed before filling the vacant board seats, she added.