MERGERMANIA LOOMS FOR ONLINE RIVALS, WB-UPN NETS

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The urge to merge is striking again, this time in the online and media worlds.

Advertising Age has learned CompuServe is talking to Sears, Roebuck & Co. about acquiring Sears' 50% stake in Prodigy.

CompuServe plans to roll out a new, consumer-friendly online service early next year, code-named "Wow." Executives close to the company speculate CompuServe would like to meld Prodigy and its strong reputation as a family-oriented service with Wow. CompuServe's existing service is technology-oriented.

Prodigy's strongest asset is its subscribers, but that value dwindles as its competition's lead grows. Prodigy has 2.2 million subscribers, trailing CompuServe's 3 million and America Online's 3.5 million.

Just how CompuServe and parent H&R Block would work with Prodigy's other owner, IBM Corp., isn't clear.

Meanwhile, Electronic Media reports Chris-Craft, Viacom and Time Warner officials met recently to discuss a merger between UPN and WB, the No. 5 and 6 broadcast TV networks.

All discussions so far have broken down quickly over how to mesh the interests of UPN partner Chris-Craft and Tribune Broadcasting Co., a WB equity partner. Chris-Craft and Tribune have competing stations in New York and Los Angeles.

Stories on Page 6.

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