Starwave, 'SmartMoney' talk Web

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Starwave Corp., seeking to enhance its position as one of the premier Internet media companies, is talking to SmartMoney, the magazine owned jointly by Dow Jones & Co. and Hearst Corp., about creating a financial-themed World Wide Web site.

The Bellevue, Wash., company also is seeking an entertainment industry partner for Mr. Showbiz, its year-old entertainment news and gossip Web site. Among the companies Starwave has talked to is NBC, where discussions have focused on an electronic version of "Access Hollywood," a syndicated entertainment news and gossip show that makes its debut next month.

A financial-themed site would represent a new arena for Starwave, whose prime Web property, ESPNET SportsZone, a venture with the cable channel, has received the lion's share of attention for the company.

DELICATE PHASE

The discussions with SmartMoney appear to have entered a delicate phase, and both Starwave President-CEO Mike Slade and Steven Swartz, editor in chief and president of SmartMoney, declined to comment.

As for Mr. Showbiz, Mr. Slade confirms that Starwave has met with executives at "Access Hollywood" but declined to comment further. He called the idea of a larger deal with NBC "a fanciful notion," because of NBC's close ties to Microsoft Corp.

"I will confess to you that I have been in talks with other networks--not peacocks but other animals," Mr. Slade said.

Asked if that meant Fox Broadcasting Co., Mr. Slade declined to comment further.

While Starwave has said all along that it wanted to find a partner for Mr. Showbiz, discussions have heated up only recently.

One factor that may have triggered Starwave: the launch this month of E! Entertainment Television's Web site, a direct competitor to Mr. Showbiz.

Starwave reports Mr. Showbiz got 600,000 visits in July, a fraction of the nearly 7 million visits to ESPNET SportsZone.

In its discussions with NBC, which produces "Access Hollywood" in partnership with News Corp.'s New World/Genesis Distribution, the network made it clear it was not interested in providing content for a Mr. Showbiz site.

'ACCESS' WOULD HAVE TO DRIVE

"If we did a deal with Starwave, 'Access Hollywood' would have to be the driver, like ESPN is the driver for their sports site," said one NBC insider. "We'll be the brand name, and we'd be happy to have Mr. Showbiz on the site."

In a separate initiative, Starwave finally is ready to unveil its Castle Infinity site, a long-awaited Internet game aimed at children ages 8 to 13.

The game, making its debut Oct. 1, is described as the first to allow as many as 10,000 users to play at once.

Starwave is concocting ad deals for a companion Web site that describes the game and how to play it. The company is seeking a three-month commitment at $15,000 per month from marketers of kids products, technology and fast- food.

ADS WILL COME LATER

Coming later: ads embedded within the game. Starwave hopes to include ads in the game itself, but is wary of negative feedback from parents and others quick to criticize efforts to market to kids on the Web.

One scenario would involve clothing the game characters in a particular brand name's products.

In all the discussions with prospective partners, "It's really share of browser time that we're going after," said the executive close to Starwave. "The networking of all those consumer audiences is another reason why an alliance makes sense for us."

Contributing: Judann Pollack.

Copyright August 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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