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THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY : Times Mirror, Pactel Plan Venture : Communications: The service will offer home shopping and travel, entertainment and other information.

January 13, 1994|JOHN LIPPMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a deal that anticipates the multimedia future, Times Mirror Co. and Pacific Telesis Corp. said Wednesday that they have formed a joint venture to provide electronic home shopping and other consumer services.

The new service, which is expected to be launched in November in Southern California, will allow consumers to shop for items over the phone or personal computer. In addition, it will tell them about local restaurants and entertainment events and help with travel plans.

Media companies, which produce vast amounts of information and other editorial content, are looking for ways to participate in the coming information superhighway, which is expected to facilitate everything from movies on demand to home shopping and long-distance learning.

The past year has seen a flurry of partnerships between longtime rivals, such as newspapers and phone companies, as they look to pool resources and assets in an effort to create interactive services whose use they hope will one day be as routine as driving a car.

Earlier this year, Cox Enterprises Inc., owner of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, and BellSouth Corp. announced a joint venture to develop and market electronic information services of newspaper classified and yellow pages advertising.

Executives of Times Mirror, owner of the Los Angeles Times, and Pacific Telesis said the joint venture will essentially create a computer-aided electronic version of a business phone directory that will enable customers to search for products or services nearest their homes.

Users will be able to conduct searches through a number of cross-referenced categories such as make and model, price and location.

Richard T. Schlosberg III, publisher and chief executive of The Times and executive vice president of Times Mirror, said the joint venture will "accelerate (the company's) expansion into new technologies," in addition to providing new sources of revenue.

The Times will contribute marketing and promotion backing to the venture as well as a link to Times advertisers and subscribers. Pacific Telesis will provide technical support.

Initially, customers will be able to call a "shopping assistant" who can match a product or service the caller is looking for with a store or business in their area.

Early on, the venture will also allow users to search for that information via a home computer and see a picture of it on their screen. Once high-capacity telecommunications lines are in place, users will be able to watch a "full motion video" of the advertised product over a television set--for example, a videotaped tour of a house for sale or a video of a used car advertised in the classifieds.

Beginning sometime this fall, businesses in a five-county area including Orange County will receive solicitations to subscribe to the service.

The joint venture has not decided where it will locate sales offices. Hal Logan, general manager of Pacific Telesis Electronic Publishing Services, said he would not rule out an Orange County site.

"Orange County is a big and important market for us," Logan said.

The initial service to be offered "only describes what is visible on the horizon now," said Lee Camp, president of Pacific Telesis Electronic Publishing Services and vice president of Pacific Bell. "More important is intent. This will evolve under its own steam in response to the marketplace."

The venture will initially target the Southern California market, but plans call for seeking partnerships with other newspapers to provide services around the state.

Although many experts are bullish on the prospects for commercial ventures on the information superhighway, it is unclear exactly what services or applications will prevail. Media companies, especially newspapers, are expected to introduce a variety of services in the coming years to build upon their core business of providing information.

Pacific Telesis is the parent company of regional telephone company Pacific Bell. Times Mirror also owns Newsday in New York, among other newspapers, and Times Mirror Cable TV, which serves more than a million subscribers.

Times staff writer Anne Michaud contributed to this report.

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