Web Is No Hang-UP For Audiotex p.30i

By: Mark Fitzgerald AS WEB PAGES become routine and newspapers look increasingly to the electronic frontiers of the personalized HTMS paper, it might be tempting to relegate audiotex to the sentimental morgue where the IBM Selectric type- writer and the punch card mainframe rest.
Tempting-but wrong, Tribune Media Services executives argue.
"With our audiotex products, we try to keep demonsttrating why, if there is stuff that is sexier on the Web, that audiotex still has a role in newspapers and online,"" says Mike Silver, vice president/electronic information services at TMS and general manager of Tribune Interactive.
Audiotex remains a powerful tool for the interactive newspaper, he says.
"We see newspapers using audiotex as a promotional vehicle to use a more powerful vehicle-which is the Web,"" Silver says. ""People who get information from the phone are likely to take the next step at some point.""
Voice News Network, the audiotex content provider TMS bought from MCI five years ago, recently joined with Excite! the Web navigational service, to provide several new audiotex services revolving around the Internet.
"Week Web News,"" for instance, summarizes breaking Internet news developments while ""On the Net"" offers suggesions for sites to visit.
VNN also provides audio services for Web products themselves, including the music sample sample service by Music Previews Network. MPN allows newspaper Web site site visitors to hear three-minute-long sample of music from new CDs.
And while VNN has recently increasly increased thenumber and variety of softer features in its mix of services, news remains at the core of the operation, says Jay Fehnel, general manager of electronic information services for TMS.
Because TMS thought newspapers were intersted in quality and weren't getting it from other providers, Fehnel says, it figured a natural place to start was the newsroom. One newsroom discpline was quickly introduced to VNN.
"It was the only time I'd ever seen an editorial business without a budget,"" Silver says.
Now VNN ""affiliates,"" as customers are called, at the beginning of each year get an events calendar that in 1997 takes then from ""Elvis Tribia""-interactive -or quiz-formated features center around Elvis Presley's Jan. 8 birthay-to ""Santa Tracking,"" a children's feature that in 1997 takes them from ""Elvis Trivia""-interactive or quiz-formatted features centered around Elvis Presely's Jan. 8 birthday-to-Santa Tracking,"" a children's feature that begins right after Thanksgiving.
Over the past year, VNN has expanded its market from the core business of newspapers to providing audiotex for TV books and to the yellow pages in partnerships with such publishers as Bell South, Telecom USA, Frontier Director Co. and BRI Inc.'s ""Sunshine Pages.""
"Weith increasing competition, information services will be a way for [audiotex providers] to distinguish themselves from each other,"" Fehnel says, adding his view that newspapers are missing an opportunity to partner with a telephone company.
"Clearly, "" Fehnel adds, ""the client groups are expanding and becoming more varied.""


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