NEWS CORP. TRIES AGAIN TO MAKE DELPHI A PLAYER

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News Corp. is trying to resurrect its Delphi online service, but some say the moves may be too little too late.

Delphi Internet Services Corp. last week announced a major restructuring, naming several executives to new posts. The first major moves from new CEO Alan Baratz lay the groundwork for a totally revamped service to make its debut-likely with a new name-sometime this year.

Delphi, one of the oldest online services, has been languishing since Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. acquired it nearly a year and a half ago. Subscribership is under 100,000 and falling, and one planned redesign was already scrapped. In addition, content deals from News Corp. properties like TV Guide have failed to materialize.

"It's almost to the point that every week which goes by puts them further into the hole," said Adam Schoenfeld, news director at consultancy Jupiter Communications Co., New York.

Delphi insists it's still nimble enough to compete in the increasingly competitive online services market. When it relaunches later this year, it will be a completely open, Internet-based service with broad, graphical access to the World Wide Web.

Mr. Murdoch is "very behind this," said Mark Benerofe, who just joined Delphi as exec VP-general manager, consumer services, from director of interactive media at Microsoft Corp. "We're going to work with third parties and our sister companies to leverage and develop content and advertising so that what we put out there doesn't force you to go through the confusion of the Internet, which is almost a never-ending mall."

Other Delphi appointments announced last week include: Ben Feder to exec VP-general manager, business services, from VP-business affairs; Jaan Torv to exec VP-managing director, Delphi International, from exec VP-programming and development; and Susan D. Goodman to exec VP-worldwide marketing, in addition to her role as president of the Goodman Group, a New York marketing consultancy.

Other executives have left recently, including Chairman Dan Bruns; Matthew Jacobson, VP-entertainment services; and Russell Williams, VP-general manager.

"I'm extremely disappointed by what has happened immediately after the acquisition," said Robert Young, who orchestrated the Delphi sale before leaving in late 1993 to form ProductView Interactive. "We had a tremendous opportunity with the Internet ... but the opportunity was blown."

The turmoil has also cost the company valuable near-term content deals. TV Guide Online will finally start a test this month, although not on Delphi. Instead, it will offer listings and chat through private online developer UNET 2 Corp.

"When Delphi is up and running we'll certainly be a part of it," said Meg Siesfeld, TV Guide Online director of editorial services. "In the meantime, we're also looking at other options, including the Internet."

Delphi's marketing efforts have also been in flux. It ended a short relationship with agency Woolward & Partners, New York, and hasn't hired a replacement.

"I believe that Alan Baratz and the new team are an excellent move for Delphi," said Mr. Young. "But it may very well be too little too late."

Michael Wilke contributed to this story.

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