CURIOCITY EYES LOCAL MARKETS FOR CONTENT, ADS: KIDS MEDIA COMPANY ENVISIONS A NETWORK OF NEARLY 80 LOCAL SITES

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Curiocity has big plans for local content. On Aug. 1 the kid-targeted media company hatches 64 online versions of its syndicated weekly newspaper supplement BrainStorm.

Each localized site will link to the corresponding newspaper site for content, as well as Curiocity's FreeZone (freezone.com), an online hub with chat, polls and other interactive content.

BrainStorm reaches more than 2.4 million households in papers as small as the Jackson County Floridian, in Marianna, Fla., and as large as the Chicago Sun-Times.

Curiocity, owned by Thomson Target Media, is helping newspapers get the attention of kids, which according to Jupiter Communications will be getting 80% of their information online by 2000.

"BrainStorm starts to build a relationship with kids," said Trish Lindsay, executive director of Curiocity, Chicago.

Curiocity also publishes Curiocity for Kids, a free publication in 18 U.S. markets that recently launched Web versions. Again, every site feeds into FreeZone, which was launched in 1995 and had between 4.5 million and 5 million page views in June. FreeZone's advertisers include Microsoft Corp., Hasbro and Kellogg Co.

MINING NATIONAL ADS

Not only does Ms. Lindsay want to see kids tapping their local papers, but she also wants to sell national ads on the local sites.

"Advertisers place an ad in the magazine, sponsor activities online and then we can measure by ZIP code how many coupons were downloaded," Ms. Lindsay said, giving the hypothetical example of a fast-food advertiser doing a regional buy.

While Curiocity hasn't signed any of its national advertisers for its local sites, it is pursuing marketers in categories such as fast-food, snacks, clothing and toys.

Local advertisers are also part of the equation. Curiocity is planning to open either regional offices to sell advertising or farm out the sales and production to a local publishing partner.

"Small advertisers will get a chance to have local tie-ins" as well as a national presence, said Justin Osmer, marketing manager at Curiocity.

`A NAVIGATIONAL CHALLENGE'

Of course, setting up 64 microsites "becomes a navigational challenge," he added. "How do you list that many cities on your site?"

Ultimately, he said, "It doesn't matter because it all ties in. FreeZone is the center."

The subsites are designed more as doorways to gather local content. For instance, a KIDecision poll surveys attitudes at a local level, and then compares results nationally. Results are shared in BrainStorm and on FreeZone. Kids are also asked to act as junior reporters and submit news stories on local happenings.

If kids want to chat, write postcards to friends or participate in other interactive activities, they're led to FreeZone, where kids' activities are under safety surveillance.

Curiocity isn't the only media company trying to tap the online newspaper market for kids. HeadBone Interactive, Seattle, publishes the HeadBone Zone Web site (www.headbone.com), and also syndicates HeadBone Zone as a co-branded newspaper supplement.

PROVING MARKET REACH

Managing so many microsites and attracting national advertisers to the local level still seems like a daunting task.

"If they can handle it and prove that they can -- all the more power to them," said Drew Ianni, analyst at Jupiter Communications, noting that Curiocity's best plan is to collect as much content as possible from kids and other parties.

"The key for Curiocity is that they can show they have the reach in these local markets to make sense for national advertisers," he added.

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