CyberWire Dispatch // Copyright (c) 1994 //

Jacking in from the "Bring on the Big Boys" Port:

Washington, DC -- AT&T and Rupert Murdoch's media empire are seeking to form an alliance that would swap conduit for content, according to a report in Interactive Week.

Think of it as the King Kong of Content meets the Godzilla of Distribution. It's an alliance that would dwarf the failed Bell Atlantic-TCI "marriage of the century."

The shadow of Murdoch's News Corp. media empire spares only Africa; every other continent on the planet his News Corp. covers. Yet his technological stable, which includes the Fox TV network, British Sky Broadcasting and Star TV serving the Asia-Pacific Rim, is missing a vital link: A telephone company.

Enter AT&T... maybe.

The News Corp.- AT&T talks are currently stalled, writes Wendy Goldman Rohm in the premiere issue of Interactive Week, because Murdoch has stubbornly refused to relinquish any of his 30% equity stake in News Corp.

But at this high stakes level, where the real nitty gritty future of so-called information superhighway is being hammered out dollar sign by dollar sign, there's always an answer. In this case, Murdoch, in a recent little publicized stock restructuring of News Corp., has freed up more equity, which leaves his 30% in tact, but puts a deal with A&T within striking distance.

Ma Bell, bless her, is keeping her mouth shut, refusing to comment. No surprise there: Mom has been one to kiss and tell.

However, News Corp. Executive Vp John Evans isn't exactly mum on the subject of some kind of telco alliance (he declined to comment specifically about any pending deal with AT&T). "The phone companies have no creative attributes. They have gentlemen whose trousers are slipping down their backsides going up poles putting wires up," he told Interactive Week. "As common carriers they deliver messages around the world. They have bandwidth. And if you have the creative process and you have the bandwidth that goes right to consumers, you have the possibility of a great deal of common good," he said.

Great. For those playing along without a scorecard, here's what's happening: The folks that have stumbled through early interactive ventures (AT&T), are now looking to put their core business -- long haul distribution of telephone signals -- into the "creative" genius pool of the company that foisted "The Simpsons" into the collective conscious of U.S. if not the world.

If You Love It, Let It Go

As much as Murdoch seems to be obsessive about cornering his own little digital chunk of Cyberspace, he also appears to have the foresight to "let it go" as well.

Interactive Week reports that Murdoch is allowing a management buy out to take place at News Electronic Data (NED). The larger Murdoch organization was kind of smothering poor NED, the paper says.

So what's NED up and do? They invent MARILYN, an interactive Windows-based "personal agent" for laptops, according to Interactive Week. The paper says that Marilyn's inventor, News Corp. Vp Evans, who also is NED's president, refuses to all Marilyn a product, preferring the pronoun "she."

"We want to steal the screen from Bill Gates," Evans told Interactive Week. Marilyn was designed by an Emmy-award winning animator, the paper says. "When Marilyn collects online data for you (based on your own personal profile) she will actually shed a tear if the news she brings you is bad," Evans told Interactive Week's Goldman-Rohm.

And when the Marilyn is busy running in the background, a golden retriever named "Oliver" roams the screen, bearing in his mouth an envelope with information, Interactive Week says. Evans gave the paper an exclusive preview of the working software. He says it will ship early next year, carrying a $50 price tag.

Beating A Dead Delphi

Murdoch also has big plans for Delphi, the nag of an online system he bought last year. Delphi, as we know it (and so few do), will basically cease to exist sometime next year.

First, Delphi headquarters will move from its tony houndstooth digs in Cambridge, Mass. to the heart of interactive grit: New York City.

Delphi CEO Alan Baratz boasted to Interactive Week that by mid-1995 his company would be way ahead of America Online, CompuServe and Prodigy by implementing a "third generation multimedia interface featuring graphics, audio, animation, video and hyper-linking of information."

Okay... time for a reality check for Mr. Baratz.

Again, for those who left their scorecards at home, let's get you up to date: Baratz was formerly with IBM. While at IBM, Baratz was on watch as the company built and deployed what it knew to be "crippled technology," in the form of a router for the National Science Foundation's NSFNet, according to a 1992 story in Communications Daily.

Under internal and external pressure, IBM released the router to be deployed in 1992 in what was then touted as the U.S. flagship of high speed network. This crippled router, patched together on a computer platform never intended to do such work, was said to work at 45 Mbps. Indeed, the National Science Foundation spent tens of millions of dollars on the network upgrade. Small problem: IBM never tested the router and never told anyone (outside a small circle of friends, which included the NSF) that it didn't work any where near 45 Mbps. In that "small circle of friends," was Baratz.

To his credit, Baratz never hid from the fact that the router was less than optimal. He owned up to the fact the router needed work, arguing that it provided adequate performance for the NSFNet traffic load at the time.

So, when Baratz says Delphi will kick ass in the commercial online world, well... take it for what it's worth.

Where does all this leave Murdoch? Planning, planning, planning. Interactive Week reports that TCI is expected to buy a minority stake in News Corp.'s British Sky Broadcasting. Also, an introductory meeting between Godzilla-Also-Ran Bill Gates and Murdoch ended in a shouting match. Gates wanted the scoop on some unannounced News Corp. product and when one of Murdoch's henchmen refused to divulge the dirt, Gates was miffed. Result: No deals.

Someone from the Murdoch entourage should have asked Gates for a gander at his bank accounts (Swiss??) and stock portfolio.

Meeks out...


CyberWire Dispatch publisher and editor, Brock Meeks, works by day as Washington Bureau Chief for Interactive Week. He also wrote the 1992 story in Communications Daily about the crippled IBM router deployed on NSFNet.