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Microsoft's Marvel, the worst-kept secret in the online world, is lining up contracts with content suppliers including Viacom Online, Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.'s ZiffNet and Charles Schwab & Co.

Marvel is expected to make its debut next year as part of Microsoft's Windows '95. Every Windows buyer will get access to Marvel and must go through the online service to register and gain product support. That gives Marvel a potential audience of as many as 42 million users. It would dwarf existing online services even if only a fraction of that number sign up.

Microsoft is planning to name two or three ad agencies to work with the company on its online, interactive TV and CD-ROM products. It has been in talks with Bozell and Modem Media, among others.

Viacom Online is developing services based on the company's cable TV networks. MTV already operates a hub on America Online, and Nickelodeon recently opened up an area on Prodigy.

Ziff is launching its own online service, Interchange, that will include the computer-oriented ZiffNet. ZiffNet is already available on other services, including CompuServe.

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