WITH ONLINE DEALS DONE, BIG 3 NETS EYE CD-ROMS

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CD-ROM publishing is emerging as the latest battleground in the Big 3 TV networks' interactive marketing wars.

All three have already created online editions. Now, NBC and Capital Cities/ABC Multimedia are close to announcing CD-ROM ventures that both view as logical outgrowths of their core businesses and important line extensions of their brands.

Cap Cities/ABC within the next two weeks will announce a major effort in the area. Details have not been laid out and no formal agreements have been signed, but the company is believed to be partnering with a major multimedia publishing company. Because it wants to retain an ownership stake in its multimedia efforts, Cap Cities/ABC will not license its content but will jointly develop and distribute the CD-ROMs.

Similarly, NBC will create an in-house group that will strengthen the network's multimedia presence. The group will operate under the auspices of NBC Cable and Business Development.

The first project will be a joint venture with Notre Dame University and NBC Sports for a "Fighting Irish" CD-ROM featuring the history and stats of the college football dynasty. The disc will be marketed to consumers.

NBC hopes to offer advertising opportunities on its multimedia products, but Cap Cities/ABC executives aren't sure the medium is suited to advertising.

CBS and The New York Times are jointly developing a CD-ROM series on Vietnam that will tap CBS News' footage and the Times' archives. But Black Rock is not yet eyeing multimedia as a major business sector.

"We are actively investigating the area, but the business for us is how it supports our affiliates and network operations," said George Schweitzer, CBS exec VP-marketing and communications.

By contrast, Cap Cities/ABC sees multimedia potential in virtually every corner of the company.

Immediate plans call for tapping the assets of ABC News and ABC's children's programming, as well as the ABC/Kane Productions unit. That unit produces several "edutainment" programs that are ripe for adaptation to multimedia, including ABC's "World of Discovery"; ESPN's "Amazing Games"; and Discovery Channel's "Wildlife Tales."

"Clearly we could have approached this as a licensing business, because we've got content and a lot of people want our content, but we really wanted to define a business for ourselves," said Patricia Vance, VP of Cap Cities/ABC Multimedia.

Two ABC shows being developed as CD-ROM properties are "Schoolhouse Rock" and its new Saturday morning hit "Bump in the Night." News programming is the next target.

"The news area is obviously a very rich area of content for us. I expect that we will be publishing a good deal of products dealing with our news content," Ms. Vance said.

Cap Cities/ABC eventually hopes to exploit sports programming from ABC Sports and ESPN, but that is more complicated because the company generally licenses those rights from others, including sports leagues.

Two ABC brands ripe for development are "Monday Night Football" and "Wide World of Sports."

But "not everything we do is going to be based on existing ABC brands and content. We will be developing original programming for CD-ROMs," Ms. Vance said.

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