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It’s Time for online division

While parent company Time Warner continues to shop for an online computer service, Time Inc. has been quietly developing a service of its own.

Wall Street buzzed this week about a rumored pairing of Time Warner and America Online. That deal may or may not still happen, but when the smoke finally clears, TW’s magazine division will be waiting with its business plan for a new online service.

Single service planned

The unit’s many magazines, its Time-Life holdings, book division and trade publications are banding together through Time Inc.’s multimedia division to establish a single service on which to leverage all of its content. And if Time Inc.’s business model and online service proposal are sound, other TW holdings might join.

Until now, Time Inc.’s individual mags had been free to link up with any of the existing online computer services. Time magazine is nearing the end of a short-term deal with America Online.

The main problem with such deals, however, is that the company providing content must relinquish much control over its own product. Services such as AOL and Prodigy have relatively rigid graphic-user interfaces; different segments and features all have the same basic look to them. Thus entertainment and information companies that sell content to those services are unable to create a distinct visual boilerplate for their wares.

Now, Time Inc. is seeking to shape and own all aspects of its online presence. Curt Viebranz, president of Time Inc. Multimedia, and Walter Isaacson, Time Inc’s new media editor, are spearheading the division’s foray into the online universe.

Isaacson says the two are examining options that will give Time “more control over the look, the feel, the content and the revenue of all our content online.”

Over the next two months, Isaacson and Viebranz will be examining the possible incarnations a Time Inc. service could take, as well as what delivery or access deals could be structured with existing services.

One option being considered has Time creating a stand-alone computer service which users would enter via gateways provided by existing online networks.

While Time Inc.’s online mandate doesn’t extend beyond its unit’s magazines and multimedia products, other divisions of TW, such as the Warner Music Group or D.C. Comics, could eventually add their content to the service.

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