WaveTop has yet to land any paid advertisements

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Following its much-hyped launch on Windows 98 last month, push service WaveTop has yet to sign up any paying advertisers. Despite its pitch as a free service offering advertisers video-quality broadcasting to millions of home PC users, the service faces key challenges.

WavePhore's consumer division expanded delivery of its push service to broadcast-ready home PCs to the top 100 markets last month. WaveTop uses the vertical blanking interval on PBS TV's broadcast signal to deliver content to users.

It recently added Continental Airlines to its roster of 20 charter sponsors, none of which pays for ads. Other charter sponsors include Cybermeals, Infinity, Kellogg Co., Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln Mercury division and MCI Communications Corp.

In late May, Astrology.Net, IDG Books' Dummies Daily and UltimateTV joined WaveTop content providers, including CBS SportsLine, N2K's Music Boulevard, People Online, Time, USA Today and Warner Bros. Online.

To promote its service, WaveTop will spend $2 million in the third quarter for an online and print campaign created by K2 Design, New York, said Sandy Goldman, WaveTop's senior VP and general manager.

Timed to coincide with Microsoft Corp.'s June 25 launch of Windows 98, WaveTop ads have appeared on the Web and in print publications such as The Wall Street Journal and San Jose Mercury News.

NICHE PRODUCT

Still, some industry observers view WaveTop as a niche product-in-waiting.

"The only dollars I could see them getting are from experimental advertisers just toying with new technologies or very targeted advertisers looking for folks who are early adopters," said Marc Johnson, senior analyst at Jupiter Communications.

DELIVERING HIGH-QUALITY VIDEO

Jim Moloshok, senior VP of Warner Bros. Online, which will use WaveTop to deliver high-quality video clips to users, said "There's going to be a ramping up [of WaveTop] until it becomes an accepted technology."

Greg Eckstrom, VP-sales and marketing at Cybermeals, said "There are high-speed alternative opportunities as well as other distribution services that offer more to the consumer." WaveTop is one of several distribution routes for Cybermeals.

Jupiter's Mr. Johnson said the WaveTop model "remains a bit of a hard sell to consumers."

While the service is free to subscribers, users still must install a TV tuner card, download WaveTop's software and connect the PC either to a TV antenna or cable system with access to PBS TV signals.

WaveTop-compatible TV tuner PC cards are available from retailers for $79 and up. Some computer makers, such as Compaq Computer Corp. and Gateway, include the tuner cards for selected models.

Copyright July 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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