Web firms eye syndie arena

American Interactive, New Tech to launch nine sites in '99

Internet content creators American Interactive Media and New Tech Entertainment this week said they will launch nine entertainment-based Web sites in 1999, with plans to develop them into both syndicated strips and individual networks for the emerging digital cable and satellite TV platforms.

American Interactive will create the sites, which will all feature a slate of original programming thorough streaming video. New Tech will executive produce the sites and attract talent.

Among the Internet “channels” being developed are: “Crimebeat,” a mix between “Cops” and “Court TV” by Grasso-Jacobson Prods; “Pop City,” a pop culture site co-produced with Dick Clark Prods; “Romanceland,” which revolves around romance novels by Alan and Susan Wagner’s Boardwalk Entertainment; “Cartoonland,” that specializes in selling collectables; and “Biz Buzz,” about finding jobs in the entertainment arena.

“The idea is to put it out on the Web and see if it migrates to the television, to see if it’s robust enough to become a full network,” said Mark Graff, prexy of American Interactive, which also operates WebPassport, that provides cable subscribers with Internet service through their TVs. “All the sites could easily become their own network on a cable channel.”

Although TV networks have dabbled with developing new shows based on Web sites, the joint venture between the two New York-based companies marks the first time Web sites have been developed to create TV networks.

“We’re getting a leg up by testing them out on the Web today,” Graff said. “We’re trying to build a brand and generate a little bit of advertising momentum.”

Graff said the first Web sites will launch in early 1999, with crossovers to satellite and digital cable platforms possible by the middle of the year.

“There’s no more room on analog boxes,” Graff said, “so we’re targeting next generation cable boxes that use interactive elements and mixed technology.”

The new “channels” are using American Interactive’s popular “Comedy Net” site, which currently features 14 shows, including performances by stand-up comedians, as a template.

“ComedyNet” is skedded to make the leap to cable, as a competitor to Comedy Central, in mid-1999. No deal with an operator has yet been signed.

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