SWAPPING FOUR CABLE NETWORKS FOR ONE CONTENT-RICH WEB SITE

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Discovery Channel didn't launch four new spinoff channels as expected this year. But it did just unveil a $10 million World Wide Web site so deep in content that the company is calling it a "third channel" after the flagship and sister cable network Learning Channel.

Discovery Channel Online went live July 1 at http://www.discovery.com, and will be previewed through September. The site will provide 1,000 new pages of content each month, heavy on color images, but light on the scrolling text that fills so many sites.

"Our business plans for four new networks began to look a little thin," said Greg Moyer, president-CEO of Discovery Networks. "So in January, early February, I said, `I think it's time to change horses.'*"

Despite featuring dozens of pictures, and video and audio clips, the site uses advanced compression technologies to keep download times manageable.

"In most sites, turning a page is like turning a brick," said Jessica Helfand, design director for Interactive Bureau, New York, the site's designer. "The pictures and images [for the Discovery site] are extremely varied. We did not recreate the idiom of a magazine."

Each page has 150 words or less, plus related images and hypertext links. Programming will include a weekly schedule of subjects: Mondays are for history, Tuesdays for nature and so on. Sunday features "Your Story," segments produced and submitted by subscribers.

"We'll be telling great stories we can't afford to tell on TV," said Mr. Moyer. "It takes half a year for a TV documentary, which kills any spontaneity."

Plans include use of satellite systems to track animal migrations in real time. A "knapsack" feature allows users to store key words and then get e-mail notices when features on those topics appear on the site.

The service will be free to subscribers, and free of ads, through September. After that, an annual user fee of about $24 will kick in. Ads will also be added, but no details have been released.

Marketing of the service begins immediately with ads on the cable networks and in Discovery magazine.

"Our main goal is reaching our viewers [who] aren't connecting with the 'net," said a Discovery spokeswoman. "Anyone else is a bonus."

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