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Two unlikely partners, AT&T Corp.'s fledgling Downtown Digital unit and 163-year-old Catholic textbook publisher W.H. Sadlier Inc., are developing a World Wide Web site for Catholics that will be funded primarily by ads.

Dubbed CatholicNet, the site will offer local and national sponsorship opportunities.

A trial is scheduled to begin in September encompassing a national site at http://www.catholicnet.org as well as local home pages for Catholic schools and parishes in cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.


CatholicNet will be targeted at both parishes and schools. The software will facilitate publishing and communicating on the Web. Parishes, for example, can publish electronic newsletters that list meetings, obituaries, birth and wedding announcements, as well as mass schedules. Schools using the software could allow for electronic transmission of homework, chat sessions with guest lecturers and online parent/teacher conferences.

While it's up to CatholicNet participants to supply their own computer hardware, Downtown Digital and Sadlier will offer free software that provides Internet access, hosting services and publishing tools.

The site's logo features Gabriel, the angel of communications.

"Our mission is to utilize the Net in a creative way for evangelization and catechetical formation .*.*. We want to build community," said Sadlier President Bill Sadlier Dinger. "And we're hoping advertising can become a source of revenue for schools and parishes across the country."

The family-owned company, which publishes textbooks for the bulk of the nation's 9,000 Catholic schools, is negotiating with a number of advertising and Web rep agencies to handle sales. Pricing models have not been developed, though advertisers participating in the trial will receive "preferential treatment" for the site's expected official launch in January.

"Companies will most likely be real cautious about advertising in an environment that shows support for any one religious group," said John Nardone, director of media and research services at Modem Media, Westport, Conn. "For something so emotional and personal as religion, it seems easier to think about advertising on a local level."


Sadlier is hoping blue-chip advertisers will see sponsoring the national site as an opportunity to reach a valuable audience.

"The Sadliers know their target better than most marketers," said Vinnie Grosso, president of Downtown Digital, which is creating the site. "It will be fascinating to see if this model works. It could be the beginning of a dynamic new way to work with schools."

While CatholicNet focuses on Catholic schools, K-III Communications Corp.'s ad-supported, school-based TV news network Channel One also is planning to launch a teen-targeted Web extension for later this year.

"Schools and parent groups are sensitive to advertisers if they feel the school is being utilized to provide a captive audience," said Mark Letts, VP at Motivational Media, a consultancy. "But when people have more freedom about viewing an ad...then there would be fewer problems."


Although phase one of the Channel One site is only focusing on editorial operations (http://www.hacienda.com), K-III plans to incorporate links for schools carrying Channel One, weekly polls and surveys as well as advertising and promotions targeted to teens.

Channel One has not begun selling ads on the Web, but Heidi Diamond, exec VP-marketing and promotions for Channel One, said the site could offer value-added deals for network advertisers, including Pepsi-Cola Co., Reebok International, Nintendo of America and M&M/Mars.

"Advertising on Channel One comes as close to being in the schoolyard as you can get-that's critical," said George Harrison, VP-marketing at Nintendo. "We wouldn't let religious affiliations [of a Web site] get in the way of reaching our target directly.

"However, we'd need to be able to do more than just reinforce our corporate name. We want to sell product."

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