In a bid to move themselves onto the burgeoning electronic superhighway, two of the Big 3 have quietly begun locking up deals with the major on-line providers.
Advertising Age has learned NBC is close to announcing NBC Online, a new service that, pending negotiations, will make the peacock network available to all the major on-line services, including Prodigy, America Online, CompuServe, NBC parent General Electric Co.'s Genie and even Rupert Murdoch's fledgling Delphi service.
It's not clear whether NBC has finalized a deal with Prodigy, though it already has an agreement with CompuServe and is believed to have completed one with America Online.
Meanwhile, CBS-in its first foray into interactive programming and marketing-has struck a deal with Prodigy to bring its Feb. 12-27 coverage of the 1994 Winter Olympics on-line.
"New technologies are opening new channels of communications with our advertisers and viewers," said CBS Senior VP-Marketing and Communications George Schweitzer, whose group is responsible for the venture.
CBS' deal with Prodigy is specifically for coverage of the Olympics in Lillehammer,Norway, but it will lead to involvement in other interactive forms of programming, marketing and advertising.
It was unclear whether the new on-line services would carry traditional advertising. ABC's and Fox's plans were unknown.
NBC Marketing Direct, a unit of NBC Marketing that's exploring new forms of interactive sales, hatched the initiative.
"We anticipate an announcement shortly," said Alan Cohen, NBC senior VP-marketing. "This is an area that we have been deeply involved in for some time."
The network took the first steps into interactive marketing with last summer's NBC Viewers Service test launch. The twice-tested service-similar to magazine reader service cards-is said to have produced strong results, including a call volume that surprised even the telephone service companies handling the project.
NBC Marketing Direct tied its last Viewers Service test with Chrysler Corp. on Interactive Network, a venture in which NBC has a stake. Instead of calling the 800-number, Interactive Network households could get information directly through their interactive control devices.
Meanwhile, NBC Online is already working with CompuServe on new forms of interactive programming. One idea is bulletin boards that would inform viewers about program listings as well as "chat rooms" to correspond directly to NBC executives and stars. NBC is also exploring technology to run full-motion promotions on the on-line services and is starting to develop videogames based on NBC shows.
"Down the road we will create our own games," an NBC executive said. "If you take a show like `Viper,' users might be able to create their own car." The prime-time show is based on a new Chrysler Corp. car.
Network executives said they plan to use NBC Online to develop integrated marketing with network TV advertisers.
CBS also plans to begin exploring methods of integrating on-line programming with its advertisers.