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In what looks to be one of the most unlikely matchups in the interactive world, Home Shopping Network is buying into the Internet.

HSN, the electronic retailer known more for its appeal to housewives than hackers, last week said it acquired Internet Shopping Network, a Menlo Park, Calif., company that offers online shopping for computer-related products.

HSN said it would use the Internet service to bring its products and those of nationally known catalogers and retailers to the Internet.

"We want to sell both HSN products as well as be the enabler for other merchants and retailers to be on the Internet," Peter M. Kern, HSN senior VP-corporate finance and strategic planning, said during a telephone conference. HSN officials wouldn't say what companies or categories they would target for their Internet shopping service.

Internet Shopping Network, a 1-year-old company founded by former Adobe Systems executive Randy Adams, offers about 20,000 products for sale. A linkup with International Data Group's InfoWorld offers back issues online and product reviews to assist buyers.

That service will twin with a similar online venture HSN and Prodigy will kick off this fall. The Prodigy venue will offer photos of merchandise and the opportunity to order online, and will be promoted to members of HSN's Home Shopping Club.

Both ventures will fall under a new division, HSN Interactive, led by President Jeff Gentry.

"One of HSN Interactive's charters is developing a database of digital information," Mr. Gentry said. The goal is for HSN to become a one-stop shop for retailers looking to take their wares online, even so far as doing the digital imaging work at HSN studios.

Still, the combination of cubic zirconia and computers is liable to elicit more titters of laughter than buyers.

"Ultimately, everyone wants to own their own on-ramp," said Larry Gerbrandt, senior VP at consultancy Paul Kagan Associates, Carmel, Calif. "Depending on whose scenario you believe, the Internet is the network of the future and will increasingly get more and more consumer access. More than anything, they bought expertise."

The Internet's audience is vastly different from HSN's TV audience, HSN allows. And industry analysts question how a company that has made its name selling to mass audiences can also sell to a targeted, highly educated and computer literate audience, too.

HSN said it's counting on the development of new tools that will make the notoriously cumbersome Internet easier to access.

"You're going to see home computers by fall of '95 shipping to the consumer with Internet connectability built in," Mr. Gentry said.

Competitor QVC, meanwhile, has expressed a similar interest in establishing an online venue but has yet to reveal its plans and its partners.

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