SONICNET RELAUNCHES SITE WITH PLANS TO TAKE ON MTV: MUSIC PUBLISHER TAPS INTERSTITIALS TO GARNER BIG-BUDGET SPONSORSHIPS

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Music site SonicNet is betting splashy interstitials ads and a foothold in emerging broadband media will position it to be the next MTV.

"Step 1 was to relaunch SonicNet and make it the best music destination on the Web," said Scott Bonn, exec VP-advertising sales and marketing at SonicNet (www.sonicnet.com), which gets more than 3 million page views a month and was redesigned earlier this month.

TCI Music purchased SonicNet in January. The second step in SonicNet's strategy involves integrating the music site with TCI's other properties: The Box, an interactive music video channel delivered over broadcast TV or cable; and Digital Music Express, a music service with 95 channels available via digital cable or satellite TV.

To fit into this plan, SonicNet has distribution deals with Media One; Australia-based Telstra Multimedia; WebTV; and this week is expected to add @Home Network to that list.

100% OF CABLE MODEM HOMES

The pending deal with @Home "will put us in 100% of cable modem homes by June," Mr. Bonn said.

But first SonicNet must build its Web brand.

Jupiter Communications analyst Patrick Keane said for brand recognition on the Web, SonicNet ranks below MTV and ahead of the Rolling Stone Network, a joint venture between Wenner Media and JamTV Corp.

"You have a lot of people fighting to be the MTV of the Internet," Mr. Keane said, adding that things could change now that SonicNet is aligned with TCI. "I think they've been very successful building a brand in this space," especially in the alternative music category including hip-hop music.

SonicNet's new format employs full-screen animated interstitials, created by Macromedia's Flash software, which Mr. Bonn said are intended for a more advertising friendly site.

SonicNet can also charge 50% more for interstitial and banner packages, raising its average cost per impression to $50 from $25. Going to this format, Mr. Bonn added, wasn't an issue because 75% of its users are already using Flash.

SonicNet's current advertisers include Intel Corp., Procter & Gamble Co. and Sharp Electronics Corp.

Dr Pepper/Seven Up was a re-launch sponsor for the site and an industry executive said it's likely to sign a year commitment to sponsor the Station, one of three major channels on the site.

It includes live chats and concerts; a Levi Strauss & Co.-sponsored area called Streamland, which offers free music videos; and Radio SonicNet, which is supplied from sister company, The Box.

EMPHASIS ON CONTENT

The other two channels are Music News, offering original music news licensed to sites such as Yahoo! Chat, Dejanews and BMG Music; and Music Guide, offering an artist database.

In contrast to many of the music sites online, e-commerce is limited on SonicNet; only a few areas refer users to retail partner N2K's Music Boulevard.

"Commerce isn't what we're about," Mr. Bonn said. "We're about news and entertainment."

Jupiter's Mr. Keane doesn't believe SonicNet is forgoing much.

The margin on selling CDs is so slim that "it's a small amount of revenue," he said, "and it's a business they don't want to be in."

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