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COMPUTERS' STAR IS RISING IN TV WORLD ADVERTISERS ARE EAGER FOR VENTURES LIKE CABLE'S NEW C/NET

By Published on .

MTV. Wired. C/Net.

If you're shooting for the hip, you can't get much hotter.

C/Net?

The cable TV venture will switch on April 1 in the slickest attempt yet to bring programs about computers and technology to TV. Advertisers have high hopes-if C/Net can deliver the goods.

Personal computers, already in one-third of U.S. homes, are established as a mass product. U.S. TV ad spending by major computer and software marketers soared 38% last year. Home computer magazines are booming.

So it's not surprising that TV programmers are busy pitching a host of ad supported shows and channels to feed the frenzy.

C/Net: The Computer Network, which starts as programming on USA Network and the Sci-Fi Channel before an eventual spinoff, is the venture computer marketers are watching most closely now.

"As advertisers and fans of technology, we're hoping for someone to hit the nail on the head," said Eric Koivisto, advertising manager at Microsoft Corp. "Once they do, then the proliferation of programming and options begins."

The omnipresent Microsoft has advertised on a few computer shows and is actually developing its own computer cable channel with Tele-Communications Inc. The TCI/Microsoft Channel is scheduled to launch this year. The first 24-hour computer channel, Jones Cable Network, signed on last September. The channel is available in about 1.5 million cable households and is carried in prime time on sister channel Mind Extension/University, available in 26 million homes. Advertisers include Apple Computer, Compaq Computer Corp. and Microsoft.

Discovery Networks is planning Quark, a technology-oriented spinoff. The Technology Channel, one of the other planned ventures, has been delayed till next year because of the lack of available space on cable systems.

One cable venture, backed by computer publisher Ziff-Davis Publishing Co., failed last fall just months after its launch.

At the moment, there isn't any outstanding computer channel, said Laura Dearborn, exec VP-media director at Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, San Francisco. Saatchi client Hewlett-Packard Co. is advertising on C/Net, and Ms. Dearborn said HP will go on programs if they have the audience and price "and if the quality is there."

Marketers are hoping C/Net: The Computer Network can live up to its potential. The venture has stylish programming about computers and technology, developed by C/Net Television President Kevin Wendle, former exec VP and a founder of Fox Broadcasting.

It has financial backing from Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, and USA Networks, owned by Viacom and MCA.

C/Net also has distribution, reaching nearly two-thirds of U.S. households on Day 1. The first program, "C/Net Central," starts on USA's USA Network and Sci-Fi Channel before eventually spinning off to a stand-alone channel. C/Net will add an Internet online service in June.

And C/Net has advertisers: in addition to HP, IBM Corp., Intel Corp., Compaq and MCI Communications Corp.

"It is very significant and very exciting," said Mark Rosen, Compaq's director of advertising. But Mr. Rosen stressed that Compaq sees its 13-week commitment as only a test.

Advertisers view the cable ventures as a new way to reach the growing band of computer enthusiasts.

Still, marketers say the computer cable programs will remain a side show next to the massive money they're plowing into regular programs on network and cable TV. One 30-second spot on "Seinfeld," which has had some computer ads, can run $400,000. A :30 C/Net spot goes for a few thousand dollars.

The computer industry's top seven TV advertisers spent more than $150 million on TV last year, a 38% increase over 1993, according to Competitive Media Reporting data.

With the booming interest in technology, there may be room for a major cable computer channel with the trendsetting influence of MTV, said Michael Baldwin, senior VP at Compaq agency Ammirati & Puris/Lintas, New York. C/Net, he added, has that potential.

Alice Z. Cuneo contributed to this story.

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