NCN Makes Some Strides p.9

By: John Consoli ONE YEAR AFTER it was formed, New Century Network has named a permanent chief operating officer, altered its mission slightly, and put its prototype national network of local newspaper affiliate Internet sites online.
Lee deBoer, 43, who spent 18 years in assorted executive positions with the cable television company Home Box Office Inc., was named CEO of NCN this week, taking over for Peter Winter, vice president/market development for Cox Newspapers, who had served as interim CEO for the network's first year.
DeBoer's appointment and the unveiling of the NCN prototype took place at a special session just prior to the start of the Newspaper Association of America's annual convention in New York City this week.
DeBoer most recently served as president of Media Futures Inc., a media consulting company. Prior to that, he was executive vice president of HBO and president of HBO International. During his tenure with HBO, deBoer's responsibilities included securing affiliates, developing content, overseeing diversification efforts and international expansion, and supervising HBO Enterprises, HBO's program financing and worldwide distribution arm.
One of deBoer's accomplishments at HBO was the successful launch of Cinemax as a separate unit of HBO movies.
NCN is an alliance of nine of the nation's largest newspaper companies, which have each pledged $1 million to support the start up of the network.
NCN board members representing the founding companies ? Gannett, Knight-Ridder, Advance Publications (Newhouse), Times Mirror, Tribune Co., Cox Newspapers, Hearst Corp., Washington Post Co., and New York Times Co. ? sat on the dais during the session.
When NCN was formed a year ago, one of its initial goals was to help newspapers around the country develop local online services that would eventually tie in to the network.
With so many newspapers over the past year starting up Internet Web sites on their own, the NCN mission has shifted its focus toward integrating those services, putting the best local content from each online daily via the network and working to facilitate the creation of specialty or niche content, which can be run in conjunction with targeted advertising.
For example, if five or six of the online sites are located in different ski resort states, special ski-oriented stories and travel information can be put up on each of those local sites and national advertisers can be solicited to run ads targeted to users of those sites. All newspapers involved would share in the ad revenue.
During the prototype period, software is being developed that will track users through the network in order to divide up the ad revenue based on user traffic.
Nearly 60 local newspapers are participating in the NCN prototype network, which will continue testing until the scheduled full launch in the spring of 1997.
The network is being touted by NCN as "The Net with a hometown point-of-view" and can be accessed at
Eighty percent of the participating newspaper sites are owned by founding companies. The other 20% are affiliate newspapers, primarily members of PAFET, "Partners Affiliated for Exploring Technology." PAFET is a resource consortium of six newspaper publishing companies whose mission is to assist each other in "the development of mechanisms for presentation and marketing information using new technologies."
Among the founding companies, Knight-Ridder has 11 papers in the network, Hearst has 10, Gannett and the New York Times Co. have six each, Cox, Hearst and Advance have four each, Washington Post Co. has two and Tribune Co. has one.
Members of PAFET, each of whom have at least one newspaper in the NCN prototype network, include Pulitzer Publishing Co., A.H. Belo Corp., Central Newspapers, Cowles Media, Freedom Communications and McClatchy Newspapers.
Joel Kramer, publisher and president of the Cowles-owned Minneapolis Star Tribune, is serving on the NCN board on behalf of PAFET. After the prototype period, when more affiliate newspapers join the network, an election will be held to fill an affiliate seat.
Any newspaper with a Web site can join the network on a non-exclusive basis, Winter said. There will be an affiliation fee and each newspaper can determine its own local pricing charge to the user.
The network can be accessed either using the NCN URL or by clicking on the NCN icon at any of the local newspaper sites. Clicking on the icon gets a user into the gateway page. The gateway page contains a selection of "hot picks" or stories (about five) each day from different local sites. Each newspaper in the network submits stories each day for consideration as a "hot pick" and the final selections are determined by the network's editor Tom Turco of Gannett New Media.
In addition, stories throughout the system can be accessed by category. There are 10 categories which can be selected: news, money, sports, editorial, politics, people, kids stuff, travel, fun stuff and marketplace. The local Web sites can put up as many stories in these categories as they want, and calling up the specific category will result in a site-by-site listing.
There is also a links page that lists the URLs and e-mail addresses of all the newspapers on the network. And there is a search page that can be used to call up information about a specific topic.
All the pages will have advertising positions and ad revenue will be divided up among the affiliates based on user traffic.
Winter said it will be up to deBoer to validate how ad revenues are split. The current vision from the board is that NCN will get a 10% facilitation fee, there will a 15% commission to the seller of the ad and the remainder of the revenue will be split by the newspaper through which the user entered the network and by the newspapers whose sites were visited.
While there are no paid advertisers yet on the prototype network, IBM is running ads that are being used to track user movement from site to site.
Last year, then-Newspaper Association of America chairman Charles Brumback hinted that the NAA's Newspaper National Network might be selected as the network's ad representative. There were some rumblings at the time that this could create some antitrust problems.
Winter now says that deBoer will determine who eventually sells ads at the national level.
When deBoer takes office on June 1, he will begin assembling a permanent management team that is expected to number between 30 and 40 people to oversee technology, finance, marketing and content.
One of deBoer's key roles will also be to build the newspaper affiliate base, a role in which he reportedly had success filling at HBO.
?(NCN will be based in New York City.) [Photo & Caption]
?(Lee DeBoer, NCN permanent chairman) [Photo & Caption]
?(To tout the start up of its prototype network, NCN ran these full-page ads in all the founding companies newspapers.) [Photo & Caption]


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