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Web Name Games Show Media Giants Schemes

8/06/2000 8:00 PM Eastern

Time Warner Inc. could launch a company to compete with Viacom Inc.'s MTV Networks, C-SPAN will lobby cable's anti-must-carry stance to the public and a merged America Online Inc. and Road Runner might get into telephony.

At least that's what some Web sites the companies have registered suggest.

It's been a relatively quiet summer for the cable industry, which provides an opportunity to dig through the Network Solutions Inc. database and take a look at some of the new ventures that some media companies may be considering.

Generally, these ventures are the kinds of thing most companies aren't ready to discuss publicly, even though they're serious enough about them to register Web sites.

In January, a search revealed that Cablevision Systems Corp. was thinking about giving away cable modems through cablemodemforfree.com, as well as turning up some protective Web-site-registration moves, like General Electric Co.'s strikejackwelch.com.

Now it appears that Time Warner Entertainment has formed a company called Volume Media LLC, which registered dozens of Web-domain names, including Volume.com. Sources said the company's Home Box Office division is overseeing the launch of Volume.com, which will be a portal targeting urban markets.

Kevin Dowdell, former vice president of interactive services at HBO, returned a call requesting information. He declined to discuss anything regarding Volume.com or Volume Media, other than to say that he is the CEO.

HBO spokeswoman Jodie Hauptmann said Volume.com will be an urban music Web site that will contain news, music, entertainment, sports, lifestyle, health and fashion sections. "Since it has not launched, we're not giving out that much information about it," she said, adding that there's no set date for its debut.

HBO officials declined to comment when asked if Volume Media also envisioned a music-video cable network.

Surfers who go to Volume.com will see a "coming soon" sign and a funky introduction video featuring a rap as a voice-over.

Part of the rap reads: "To tell you the truth, things are moving so rapidly that it's hard to keep up with today's reality-with all of the changing trends like who's who and who's new on Billboard's top 10, what's the hot spot and where not to take that special friend. Where to work out, where to get zen. Argh. I guess it all works out in the end, but I need a place I can go to. I mean, I don't want to be mothered or smothered by facts or figures, but there should be a source that can act and deliver. I want a place I know I can trust, where the world is the boardroom. I heard there's a place in the works like that called Volume."

TWE also registered volume-networks.com, volumevideo.com, shoppingvolume.com, volume-corp.com and volumeradio.com. And there is a password-protected site, volumestaff.com.

C-SPAN executive vice president Rob Kennedy was less secretive when asked about some of the Web sites the network has registered. In April, C-SPAN bought mustcarry.com, mustcarry.net and mustcarry.org.

C-SPAN-a party to the unsuccessful lawsuit Turner Broadcasting System Inc. filed against the Federal Communications Commission in an effort to overturn must-carry rules-plans to step up the fight against digital must-carry, Kennedy said.

The Supreme Court upheld the FCC's must-carry rules in 1997, yet the commission and Congress haven't adopted regulations pertaining to digital must-carry-yet.

Early this fall, C-SPAN will unveil mustcarry.org, a Web site it will use to inform viewers and the media about everything related to must-carry, Kennedy said.

"[The must-carry issue] is going to come around again, and we'd like to provide a forum for people to go to," he added. "Viewers ask us about it-why networks are taken off and what must-carry means."

Kennedy said C-SPAN would not discuss corporate opposition to must-carry during its cable programs, but it will use its cable channels to direct viewers to the site. The site will contain public FCC documents concerning must-carry, court filings, news reports and editorials. It will also contain "a statement of C-SPAN's opposition, but we'll also offer the rationale and support of the rule," he added.

Uncovering many of the Web sites Cablevision has quietly registered is usually entertaining. The company rarely discusses plans with the media, yet it bares all in the Network Solutions database, including fullfrontalfashion.com, which it registered in May.

After the January report that Cablevision's registered sites include americancatholictv.com, the company began registering new Web sites under its CSC Holdings Inc. unit, making them a little harder to track down.

Now it appears Cablevision is moving forward with plans to launch a cable network targeting Catholics. Last week, Inside.com reported Cablevision plans to launch as early as January a channel called American Catholic, which will be run by former CBS Television Network president Tom Leahy. Rainbow officials declined to comment last week.

Many sites CSC Holdings registered recently appear to be related to the Web portal for the New York market that Rainbow Media Holdings Inc.'s MetroChannels plans to launch with Primedia Inc.'s New York magazine. The companies still haven't said what they'll call the portal, but it appears that the words "hit" and "metro" will be included in the name.

CSC Holdings recently bought several sites, including hitmetrochannels.com, hitmetromovies.com, hitmetrotalk.com, hitmetromusic.com, hitmetrohealth.com, hitmetroarts.com, hitmetrostyle.com, hitmetrofood.com, metroholistic.com, hitmetrochannel.com, hitmetrosports.com and hittvny.com.

"We've got significant new-media plans for Metro, so we're holding those names for future development," Rainbow Media spokeswoman Chris Levesque said.

Cablevision has its own high-speed-data service, called "Optimum Online," and it is an Excite@Home Corp. affiliate. So it may be logical that in January, Cablevision registered the name optimumathome.com.

Soon after Time Warner announced plans to merge with AOL in January, dozens of Web sites involving combinations of AOL and Time Warner's Road Runner were registered by Road Runner.

Among those are aoltwrr-phone.com, aoltwrrvideo.com, aolrr-tv.com, aolrrpictures.com and aoltwbroadband.com.

Road Runner spokeswoman Wendy Wilson said those domain names were actually registered by AOL. An AOL spokesman confirmed that the company registered the sites, but only as a routine move to protect them for possible future use.

TBS Superstation also thought about the Web-site possibilities it could have with AOL. In January, it registered aol-twsuperstation.com (along with .net and .org).

Many companies register names as protective measures to prevent cyber-squatters from buying names and attempting to sell them back at hefty prices.

Viacom's Blockbuster Inc. unit apparently got beaten to the punch. It recently announced that it will launch a video-on-demand service this fall with Enron Corp., and one of the names under consideration for the service is reportedly Blockbuster On Demand.

But Amy Friedlander, vice president of business development at VOD provider Intertainer Inc., was ahead of the pack. In July 1999, she registered blockbusterondemand.com "kind of as a joke," Friedlander said.

Is she looking to sell it to Blockbuster? "I would certainly be willing to talk to them about it," she added.

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