(Note: Earlier this week I said I would not be writing a column for a few days while traveling. Consider this an "Extra!" edition, since I have some significant news to report.)
NCN takes a major step -- one year later
Potentially one of the most significant projects of the U.S. newspaper industry is New Century Network, the cyberspace alliance of nine of the largest American newspaper companies announced one year ago. Well, after much waiting, the NCN board is making some major announcements on Sunday in a press briefing in New York, just prior to the Newspaper Association of America's publishers meeting.
Prominent among the announcements will be the appointment of Lee deBoer as permanent CEO of NCN, replacing interim CEO Peter Winter. deBoer is a 44-year-old New Yorker who is president of Media futures Inc., his own consulting firm, and previously was executive vice president of Home Box Office (HBO) and president of HBO International. He has no previous newspaper industry experience. He will start in the new position on June 1, and NCN will be headquartered in New York City.
Winter, interviewed on Friday, said the NCN board decided on deBoer because of his experience in developing and funding affiliate content and building businesses internationally. deBoer was involved in the early days of affiliate marketing of the HBO cable television network; he developed and financed programming for HBO; and led new business development efforts for the network.
DeBoer was selected from among four finalists for the permanent CEO job. Winter confirmed that one of the other finalists was a "leading newspaper industry figure." Speculation among industry observers had been that NCN's board would have to go outside of the newspaper industry for a CEO, since it might be difficult to find someone from within the newspaper world who wouldn't pose a conflict of interest threat; the potential would have been there for a CEO linked to just one of the founding companies to act in the best interests of his or her company.
Interim CEO Winter will replace Jay Smith as the Cox Newspapers representative on NCN's board of directors. Winter also will move on to other interactive publishing ventures within Cox, but he is not yet willing to talk about his plans -- other than a well-deserved vacation following the formal NCN announcement on Sunday.
Winter says all of the founding companies remain committed to the NCN concept, including the New York Times Company, which was rumored recently to have been wavering on its commitment.
On Sunday, "We will be demonstrating a prototype network on which we have more than 50 newspaper affiliates who will work over the next seven months testing various content and promotion ideas that NCN has been working to develop," Winter said. Those affiliates will include newspapers of both founding and non-founding companies. (NCN founding companies include the New York Times Company, Knight-Ridder, Gannett, Washington Post Company, Times-Mirror, Cox Newspapers, Hearst, Advance Publications, and the Tribune Company.)
Among the non-founding affiliates will be newspapers owned by the member companies of PAFET (Partners Affiliated for Exploring Technology), a new media consortium of 6 medium-sized U.S. newspaper chains. (Central Newspapers, A.H. Belo Corp., Cowles Media, Freedom Communications, McClatchy Newspapers and Pulitzer Publishing.) Joel Kramer, publisher of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, Minnesota (a Cowles newspaper), will join the NCN board for one year in a newly created affiliate chair.
NCN plans to hold affiliate meetings where affiliate newspapers will be able to elect council executives, in a structure similar to that created by television networks, Winter says.
There is an NCN prototype on the World Wide Web at http://www.newcentury.net/, but Winter emphasizes that it's "just a prototype." The final result of NCN's work, which will be formally launched on January 1, 1997, could be very different. NCN will begin placing advertisements in newspapers beginning Monday, announcing the existence of NCN to the world. But these public promotions will not include the Web site address. Winter says he does expect the interactive publishing industry to drop by and offer feedback, however.
Oh, and NCN has announced its new slogan: "New Century Network: The Net with a Hometown Point-of-View."
Many more details will be announced on Sunday in New York, so watch for additional coverage of NCN this coming week.
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