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Despite spending most of his career in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Chip Herman is a relative newcomer to the land of technology.

Mr. Herman spent years in northern California marketing Del Monte frozen food and Frisbees. He edged into technology three years ago to launch Sony Corp.'s videogame player, and he jumped headlong into the field last summer to help start WebTV Networks in Palo Alto, Calif.

But he still considers that consumer focus as critical in selling WebTV's Internet service to the masses. "The consumer," Mr. Herman said, "is the individual who determines what the value equation is in a product."

The product, in this case, is a TV set-top box, licensed from WebTV and marketed by Philips Consumer Electronics, Sony Electronics and, soon, Mitsubishi Consumer Electronics America and Hitachi Home Electronics. WebTV markets the Internet service for the devices.

WebTV counts about 85,000 subscribers after nine months--vs. the 1 million videogame players Mr. Herman helped sell in Sony's first six months in that market.

So, is WebTV a success? Yes, said Mr. Herman, noting WebTV is pioneering a new market. Still, WebTV's limited sales suggest the battle for TV-based Web access is just beginning. Mr. Herman said competition from rival devices will help build the market, but he added, "I would take [the] first to market [with a product] any time."

Microsoft Corp. agrees: The software giant is buying WebTV for $425 million. Mr. Herman expects the deal to close by the end of summer, leaving WebTV as a subsidiary running its own marketing.

Betcha didn't know: Mr. Herman gave his parents a WebTV device for Christmas, for which they're paying the $19.95 monthly fee. Mr. Herman figures WebTV better deliver good value if he's to keep his parents as customers.

Vital Stats:
Title:VP-marketing, WebTV Networks, Palo Alto, Calif.
Age/bio:41, born in Indianapolis. B.S. in public administration, 1978, and MBA, 1980, University of Southern California.
Career highlights:Various brand manager titles on Joy, Tide and Cinch laundry and dish soap, Procter & Gamble Co., 1980-83; product manager, Del Monte USA, 1983-86; VP-marketing, Boston Whaler, 1986-88; VP-marketing, toy and sporting good company Kransco Group Cos., 1988-94; VP-marketing, Sony Computer Entertainment, 1994-96; current post, June 1996-.

Copyright July 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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