SKY'S THE LIMIT FOR SONY'S AMBITIOUS STATION PLANS: GM, SEARS AND OTHERS MULLING SPONSORSHIP DEALS FOR GAME, AUDIO AND SHOW TIE-INS: SEARS EYES MUSIC DEAL: DIGITALPLAYGROUND: CHATTING WITH SOAP STARS

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Sony Corp. of America on Feb. 17 plans to launch the Station @Sony.com, one of the most ambitious destinations in cyberspace.

Sony is negotiating with General Motors Corp., American Airlines, Sears, Roebuck & Co. and others to sponsor the site, a major interactive entertainment complex featuring online games, audio clips from Sony artists, soap opera tie-ins and more.

GM is negotiating to sponsor the game show element of the Station, which includes Jeopardy! Online, Wheel of Fortune Online and The Dating Game Online, said an executive familiar with the site.

American Airlines is in discussions to sponsor Destination America, which offers audio clips of performances by Sony artists.

Sears, which has sponsored Sony artist Gloria Estefan's concert tour, is considering sponsoring one of the music-related sites. One such site is called the Artist Supersite, where Sony music stars will do interviews and online concerts.

Visa International will serve as transaction and promotional partner for the site; the company has been involved with the project since it was announced more than a year ago.

Marketers are being offered traditional banners or exclusive sponsorships, as well as two concepts normally associated with film and TV: product placement and promotional pods.

Product placement is the placing of a product's likeness on a screen; promotional pods are fast-loading, one-page screens that come up after a user clicks on an icon and right before the user gets the screen he called up.

Sony had originally signed Television Programming Partners as its sales rep, but TPP is no longer involved in the project. Sony declined to comment on the site prior to its launch.

The centerpiece of the music portion of the site will be S.I.R.E.N.-Station Integrated

RealAudio and Entertainment Net work. Shockwave audio will also be incorporated.

S.I.R.E.N. will consist of the Online Jukebox, which will include user selections as well as dedications; Music on Tap, a twice-weekly music, news and interview area; Sneak Peeks, featuring the latest music from Sony artists; S.I.R.E.N. Hour, a monthly e-mail and call-in program; and Just the FAQs, where users can ask questions of Sony artists.

The music area will also house Digital Playground, which features a variety of interactive, multiplayer games, such as Music Mania. Music Mania is a trivia game where competitors try to identify sound clips, video clips, lyrics and album art.

The target audience for the music area is adults 18 to 34, though Sony expects a heavy dose of 12-to-17-year-olds.

In an area dubbed StationBreaks, which will include a variety of special-interest programming, there will be a country music site produced by SW Networks, Sony's radio network, called Country's Most Wanted. It will include games, performances and chat. The target there is adults 25 to 54.

Battleground, an online game that can accommodate 1,000 players simultaneously, will be the focus of the Station's game area. Sony is offering marketers brand logos placed like billboards in various Battleground landscapes. Sponsorship is also available for Chipland, the chat area for games.

To build a user database, Sony created the Pass, short for Backstage Pass. Users type in their various entertainment preferences and in return will get e-mail notices about special events and promotions relating to those interests.

There's also a buddy list feature, and users can search to see if their friends are cruising the Station.

Soap City features online extensions of soap operas "Days of Our Lives" and "The Young and the Restless." Users will be able to navigate the two fictional towns of these series; there will be chat areas, bulletin boards and shopping areas for tie-in products.

Soap City is being produced by Rubin Postaer Interactive, Santa Monica, Calif.; the agency declined to comment.

Sony is looking for a sponsor for the site; the company also thinks product placement is a natural for Soap City, according to the executive familiar with the project.

Police Story will feature true crime stories. Real information is supplemented with interactive interviews and staged recreations. Chat rooms with various forensics experts are planned.

For the game shows, Sony is offering to create special versions of Jeopardy! Online for marketers.

In The Dating Game, players will pick avatars to represent themselves. In special, hosted versions, real people will star. Sony will offer sponsorship of the College Dating Game Online during spring break.

Contributing: Jane Hodges.

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