For the entertainment area, the company has quietly engaged Comspan Communications, Santa Monica, Calif., to line up deals with studios to add interactive elements to hit TV shows.
Steve Goldberg, MSN's manager of advertising development and strategy, has been positioning Microsoft's Web media products-including MSN, MSNBC, Slate and the upcoming Mungo Park and MSN Investor-much like a TV network, with offerings to target various niches.
`EVERY LIFE STAGE AND LIFESTYLE'
"We encourage advertisers to take any combination of programs and use them to create a package," Mr. Goldberg said.
"They are saying they'll have something on the Web for every life stage and lifestyle," said one ad executive who has heard Microsoft's latest pitch. Like other media companies, such as Time Warner and Sony Corp., "they are creating a full-service network on the PC that gives people a reason to spend more time on the Web and less time watching TV," the executive said.
Microsoft also has clear ambitions in the PC-TV realm.
Comspan has already spoken to various studios about working online with such hit shows as "ER," `"Friends" and "Home Improvement," company insiders said.
PLAYING DOCTOR WITH 'ER'
Comspan and Microsoft propose to cover the costs of creating the supplemental material, but don't want to pay any studio licensing fees. The supplementary material could include information like a patient's chart on "ER" that could be called up online while the show is on the air.
"What we're really gearing up for is the widespread deployment of PC-TVs like the one Gateway has announced," said Comspan President Larry Namer, who is best known as the co-founder of Movietime-later relaunched as E! Entertainment Television.
Gateway 2000 earlier this year introduced a combination wide-screen TV-PC, and consumer electronics marketers including Packard Bell and Zenith Electronics Corp. are developing their own products to offer online access and other functions via the TV screen.
The entertainment initiatives will be platform-neutral, Mr. Namer said, indicating Microsoft might want to work with Intercast, technology developed by Intel Corp. that provides live TV feeds to Web sites.
INTERACTIVE FORD ADS
Mr. Namer said he believes PC-TV will be ubiquitous in about three to four years, and that at that time "we'll be overlaying interactive material on commercials as well. If you see a Ford spot you'll click on an icon that will give you more information about your local Ford dealer."
He added that "interactive-enhanced" MSNBC is going to be much of what that network is about when PC-TVs become widely distributed.