COMING SOONWELL PRETTY SOON

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A reporter's-eye view of the Big Picture conference, sponsored by Variety and Wertheim Schroder & Co. this month in New York.

The news at the Big Picture conference was mostly about things not happening.

Ted Turner revealed that he once again is not buying CBS.

Tele-Communications Inc. President-CEO John Malone disclosed that talks with Time Warner about selling off Time Warner's stake in mutual investment Turner Broadcasting System have entered a "quiescent stage, which means quiet."

And just about everyone speaking at the conference involved in interactive media developments said its material development is still in the offing.

With such disclaimers, one can only assume some, if not all of those events are imminent. But here's what the participants actually said:

Mr. Malone said TCI's and Microsoft Corp.'s broadband digital video service still depends on developing a new TV converter box at a reasonable cost.

"We expect that set-top box will mutate or evolve into a client server. The question is how expensive it will be and when," said Mr. Malone, adding, "We have to get the client server down to $500 or less. And Bill [Gates] has to write the software."

However, at that cost, Mr. Malone predicted that a broadband digital video service reaching 20% of U.S. TV homes will be a "gold mine."

Howard Stringer, CEO of the new media venture of Bell Atlantic Corp., Nynex Corp. and Pacific Telesis Group, said he plans to make the service "extraordinarily network friendly," carrying the best broadcast and cable TV services in an attempt to attract subscribers. "The faster we collect viewers, the faster we will get into original programming," he said. "In the meantime, we are collecting viewers."

Home Box Office Chairman-CEO Michael Fuchs suggested yet another moniker for the information superhighway that might be more accessible to consumers: "I'm suggesting that we call it the Switched Interactive Digital network, or SID."

Mr. Fuchs defended parent Time Warner's investment in interactive TV development, including the Full Service Network test in Orlando, noting that it would likely produce significant by-products: "Remember, we got Tang from the space program."

Scott Marden, president and CEO of Philips Media, said new media development is as much a function of developing new applications as it is technology. He said two initial applications that appear to offer great promise for interactive media are sexual content and gambling and that Philips is working with a major airline for an in-flight gambling service that appears very promising, but raises moral and ethical issues.

"We talked about sex today," Mr. Marden said. "Gambling is probably the second killer app. And they're both very controversial apps."

New World Entertainment Chairman Brandon Tartikoff, however, predicted other less controversial applications could be killers if marketed properly.

For example, he predicted the upcoming movie adaptation of "Evita" starring Madonna would generate $100 million in receipts if it premiered on pay-per-view before any advance previews or reviews.

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