If Netchannel is successful, the masses will flock to the Internet and they won't even know they're there.
NetChannel, a new Web service aligned with TV maker Thomson Consumer Electronics and Oracle Corp., will use the Web mainly to deliver custom content to TV sets. Consumers can use the service to log onto the Net, but that's secondary.
"We're not trying to be a Web surfing device," said John Stuckey, VP-marketing at NetChannel (www.netchannel.net). "We're about making the television more fun."
NetChannel today announces initial content providers including A&E Television Networks' A&E and History Channel as well as Court TV. Other partners include Intuit, Internet Shopping Network and iVillage.
Mr. Stuckey said NetChannel will be "competitively priced," hinting strongly at the same $20 flat monthly fee charged by rival WebTV Networks and major Internet service providers.
PARTNER WITH THOMSON
NetChannel will launch as the Web service bundled with Thomson's RCA Network Computer, which is expected to be unveiled June 17 and reach stores in July or August.
The computer is expected to sell for more than a basic $250 box running WebTV; Thomson will include a keyboard that costs extra with WebTV.
NetChannel isn't perfect: The screen was blurry and somewhat hard to read in a demo last week, but the service appears simple enough to navigate with a remote control and keyboard.
NetChannel is positioning itself as a complement to TV. Most content is "pushed" to the user: TV listings automatically download overnight. Family members can specify interests in various topics, such as sports, entertainment, news and finance, so their content-scores, soaps recaps, stock quotes-automatically loads when they sign on.
WATCH TV, SURF SIMULTANEOUSLY
Advertisers will be able to target individual family members with banner ads. Pricing will be on an impression basis; no deals have been announced.
Mr. Stuckey said NetChannel's two killer apps are e-mail and the ability to keep in touch with what's on TV. Like WebTV, viewers who have picture-in-picture sets can watch TV and be on the Web.
NetChannel tapped Asylum, San Francisco, to handle its estimated $5 million to $6 million ad campaign.
Thomson's device, a sleek black box about the size of a notebook computer, is the first consumer version of Oracle's much-hyped, low-cost Network Computer platform.
Others are vying for entry: Diba Inc. said it has developed a set-top box that works with any Web service, but it hasn't announced major U.S. distribution deals.
WebTV has alliances with Sony Electronics and Philips Consumer Electronics and content deals with TV Guide Entertainment Network, E! Online and PBS.
Microsoft Corp. last month agreed to buy WebTV for $425 million and likely will use a radically improved service to target the mass market.
Mr. Stuckey isn't fazed. "The Internet may have started in the PC world, but it's going to break out into the masses," he said.