Thomson's set-top box brings an Internet connection to TVs, using technology licensed from Oracle Corp.'s Network Computer Inc. unit and a $19.95-a-month Internet-access service from Net-Channel.
The $299 to $349 RCA NC will compete with $250 WebTV devices from Philips Consumer Electronics and Sony Electronics, which run on WebTV Networks' Internet service.
START OF NEW BATTLE
Thomson's arrival signals the start of a new battle between Oracle and Microsoft Corp.; the latter is buying WebTV for $425 million.
Thomson is cautious about early sales prospects based on WebTV's initial results. WebTV last month said it had signed 85,000 subscribers in the first nine months, but retailers complain of sluggish sales.
"We're not going out with the expectations of WebTV. I think we're a little more based in reality," said Ken Greer, marketing manager for Thomson multimedia products and services. "It's going to be a slow process to really ramp up. Our expectations are moderate."
WANTS 50% MARKET SHARE
Mr. Greer, nevertheless, hopes to grab at least half of the nascent category by yearend and is optimistic about higher sales volume long term. Thomson will ship its device in mid-August; Mr. Greer said most major electronics retailers will carry it.
Thomson is giving retailers co-op money and market development funds rather than staging its own ad campaign.
That approach is in stark contrast to Philips, which blitzed the airwaves last fall and early this year with WebTV ads from Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmet-terer/Euro RSCG, New York. Philips spent $18 million on WebTV in the first quarter, Competitive Media Reporting said.
Thomson's partners are planning their own ad efforts sure to benefit the RCA NC.
Network Computer Inc. is expected to launch a $20 million campaign for the NC brand this fall from Think New Ideas, West Hollywood, Calif.; two-thirds of the budget will be aimed at business, the rest at consumers.
NetChannel's ad effort will include direct mail and promotions with cable systems. Asylum, San Francisco, handles NetChannel's $5 million to $6 million account.