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Time Warner programs Net entertainment

The company's upcoming entertainment hub site will offer original programming that rivals television, the latest sign of the media giant's commitment to the Net, a Warner Bros. Online executive says.

LAS VEGAS--Time Warner's upcoming entertainment hub site will offer original programming that rivals television, the latest sign of the media giant's commitment to the Net, according to a Warner Bros. Online executive.

The upcoming Entertaindom site also may offer content that is provided by other television and movie studios, further evidence of the so-called coopetition phenomenon that is common among Net companies--but less so in the entertainment business.

Although Net entertainment has met mixed results so far, Time Warner is bullish.

In an interview at this year's National Association of Broadcasters trade show here earlier this week, Warner Bros. Online executive vice president Jim Banister said that Time Warner is looking to leverage Net technologies such as Macromedia Flash and others to offer broadband programming--even without high-speed connections--via PCs and the Web. Media giants need to adopt such strategies to keep their revenue growing in the Internet era, NAB show attendees were told repeatedly this week.

Banister said the three concepts that best describe Warner Bros.'s strategy are "broadband," "choice," and "original entertainment." Entertaindom will feature such material, and is one of five hubs the company is planning, with others covering news, sports, business news, and lifestyles.

The site will "give birth to a new breed of original entertainment only possible on the Internet," reads a message on the Entertaindom site, which for now simply describes the site and offers an opportunity for users to register. "Entertaindom is comprised of four domains: video-based entertainment, animation-based entertainment, music-based entertainment, [and] game-based entertainment.

"Remember, this is not like boring old television reruns," the message on the site continues. "We're talkin' a whole new world of original, ongoing programming native to the Internet--a compelling mix of content, community, and commerce. Entertaindom is designed for you, the Internet audience. It will change and grow with Internet technologies and with your collective desires and needs."

The name "Entertaindom" does not employ any of Time Warner's brand names, such as Warner Bros. Music, the WB television network, and the like. Banister said this was done by design, partly because the company is working with other entertainment companies that want to offer their own programming on the site.

He said the same has occurred with ACMEcity, Warner Bros. Online's community site, which launched in January. Banister declined to name the other companies, but said some are movie and television studios.

Still, other large media firms want to compete with Time Warner and others, and are creating so-called vertical hub sites aimed at attracting and retaining targeted audiences on the Net. Banister said that space is "so ripe it's scary."

Viacom and Disney are among the firms that have built or are building "destination" sites or hubs of their own. While Disney brought all its properties under one umbrella with its Go Network, Viacom is taking a similar tack to Time Warner, planning vertical hub sites aimed at more targeted audiences.

The two sites in the works at Viacom are the Buggles Project, which is the working title for a music hub due for launch in June, and Project Nozzle, the working title for a children's site coming in September, the company has said. Both sites will wrap Viacom's existing properties--such as MTV and VH1 on the music side and Nickelodeon for children--into larger sites that offer new content, community, and e-commerce.

With the proliferation of cable television channels and the advent of the Web, broadcasters and other large media companies are faced with potentially lost market share as consumers have more and more choices for what to do with their free time. That idea was a theme of the NAB show this week; Sony chief executive Howard Stringer warned broadcasters in his keynote address to embrace digital technologies or risk obsolescence.

FCC chair William Kennard implored broadcasters to "seize the opportunity of a broadband future" and figure out creative strategies to take advantage of the convergence in communications.

Sony's Stringer told broadcasters that they must jump on the digital technology bandwagon now--using their strong brand identity and popular content to lure users. If they wait, the broadcasters could get shut out as Net giants such as Yahoo partner with content providers and mount a stiff competitive challenge.

Time Warner is taking that approach--leveraging its original content and using new technology.

"What do I need a TV for, if I can create articulate programming on the computer?" Banister said. "The playing field is being leveled between television and online. We can be judged by the same criteria as television now."

He added that the advantage to the online medium is that consumers can be as interactive as they choose; they can sit back and watch the programming passively or interact, using the community features and e-commerce areas. "Online I can give people a dozen reasons to get on and stay on," Banister said, adding that "the timing is now for entertainment online."

And according to a recent report from research firm Cyber Dialogue, "Entertainment content reigns as the top content category sought online." According to its survey, 70 percent of adults who use the Web went online in search of entertainment-related content in 1998.

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