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Bell-TCI not in market for a studio

Despite rumors buzzing about Hollywood, Bell Atlantic Corp. and its soon-to-be subsidiary Tele-Communications Inc. have no desire to own a movie studio.

“We don’t have any intention of owning a studio, neither John Malone nor I,” Bell Atlantic chairman/CEO Raymond W. Smith said at the Western Cable Show Thursday in Anaheim.

Reports surfaced last month that TCI president/CEO John Malone had merger discussions with exex at both Matsushita and Sony, owners of MCA and Columbia, respectively. But at a press conference that followed his speech to the confab, Smith said 100% ownership of a studio was out of the question.

Still, Bell Atlantic might buy a piece of a studio in order to guarantee itself access to programming. “Those things are alwayspossible,” Smith said, but his “preference” is to line up the programming without having to make a large investment.

During his speech, Smith outlined some of the changes the new world of interactive multimedia will bring with it and the changes Bell Atlantic already has faced since the TCI merger was announced in October.

“Four months ago, I was just another Bell-head with my pocket protector,” Smith said. “As a result of all this happening, it sure doesn’t look like Kansas anymore. And it sure isn’t the same telephone business anymore.”

Smith, who was received warmly by the industry that only a few months ago was a rival, said not all phone companies and cable companies will follow the Bell Atlantic-TCI model. But the two industries, as well as programmers, software firms, publishers and videogame makers, will continue to converge.

“The trouble is no one in the entertainment or telecommunications industry can do it alone,” Smith said.

And Smith took a few minutes at the end of his speech to take a shot at the 1992 Cable Act, which reregulated much of his new industry. The rules need to be simple, so that companies aren’t burdened by regulations, and symmetric, so that all companies in the business are on a level playing field. The new cable law doesn’t do that, he said.

“I can’t believe that anyone believes that’s the way to run the information superhighway,” Smith said. “That is not the way this country will move forward.”

But in the press conference, which lasted three times as long as his speech, Smith said video-on-demand, home shopping, gameshows, gambling and advertising will drive the initial moves into interactivity, because there is already a pent-up demand for them.

“There are five killer applications that are sitting there like plums ripe to be picked,” Smith said. “The customers are there and they’re clamoring for it.”

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