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News Corp.’s NED unit forges computer links

Advances in technology are forcing the entertainment and computer companies to start poaching in each others’ yard.

As a result, new alliances between Hollywood and Silicon Valley must be forged in the coming years, said John Evans, president and CEO of News Electronic Data, a unit of Rupert Murdoch’s giant News Corp.

That message was the kickoff of Intermedia, a conference in here that brings together both industries for three days of debate.

News Corp., which owns 20th Century Fox, Fox Broadcasting, as well as ETAK, a publisher of electronic databases, is wrestling with ways to navigate through the increasing number of TV channels that cable companies are threatening to unleash in this year.

Evans is also looking at digital TV, a technology in which the television signal will be compressed by the cablecaster or network and then decompressed at the home with a set-top box. For one, his unit is developing encryption technology to protect Fox’s vast television and film library when it’s transmitted to the home. For another, Evans’ company has been quietly funding research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology that will give TV viewers the chance to make intelligent programming choices.

“When TV becomes digital, the world will change irreversibly,” said Evans. “You’ll have 500 channels and most people wonder how to go from one to 72. You need one channel for you. And NED wants to put the ‘me’ in media.”

To that end, Evans is promoting computer software programs that would be able to fetch whatever the viewer wants.

Unfortunately, the wire carrying that request for more information back to the network won’t likely be controlled by programmers like Fox. Noted Evans, two-way digital TV means cutting deals with companies like Tele-Communications Inc. and telephone companies. More deals are also in the cards between Hollywood and the computermakers.

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