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Cybertainment

ABC, NBC, Fox Give Sites Make-Overs

October 06, 2000|MICHELE BOTWIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Just in time for the start of the fall TV season, several of the major networks--including ABC, NBC and Fox--are rolling out major changes to their Web sites.

After updating its portal site, Go.com, in early September, the Walt Disney Internet Group will launch a new and much-improved look for ABC.com on Thursday. Formerly a sort of black hole on the Internet, with a primarily black background and tiny yellow lettering, the network site will now feature a brighter, TV-like design, as well as more comprehensive and user-friendly features.

"One of the most important goals for the redesign is to really create the look and feel of the ABC network online," said Brian Bowman, vice president of ABC.com. "In essence, we're trying to create a Web site that's like TV with a keyboard."

To that end, the home page will be divided into boxes that resemble TV screens. The top four boxes will feature images and theme colors from ABC prime-time and daytime shows and headlines from ABC News and ABC Sports--clearly designating the four major programming components of the network. In addition, an easy-to-read TV schedule will be located on the top right-hand side of the page. The black background, which once dominated the page and submerged the content, will be relegated to the left navigation bar; the network's yellow and black theme colors will be preserved more subtly.

The site has already added a new desktop appliance, called the ABC Dot, which allows users to download small packages of network content--such as video clips, games, a news ticker and a calendar--to their desktops. But after I completed the simple download process, I was not able get the Dot to do much besides play the ABC theme music and slow down other programs on my desktop.

The individual show sites will continue to present interactive features as part of the network's focus on convergence. In particular, the "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" site will deliver a redesigned game and behind-the-scenes streaming video clips. And look for "Millionaire" to go wireless soon.

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NBCi.com, meanwhile, launched Sept. 25. (Did you happen to notice any spots from the $50-million advertising campaign during the Olympics?)

A comprehensive portal site akin to Yahoo! and AOL, the NBCi site has absorbed the former network site, NBC.com, as well as other NBC Internet properties Snap.com and Xoom.com. Content from the MSNBC and CNBC cable sites has also been incorporated into NBCi offerings.

Wireless options have not yet been announced but are in development, according to Edmond Sanctis, president and chief operating officer of NBCi.

Although the overall look of NBCi is quite sterile and impersonal, the site features personalization options (My NBCi) and will offer free Internet access through Montgomery Ward retail stores and free search software to enable users to scour the Web even when visiting other sites. (Yahoo.com provides strikingly similar options to its users.)

Once visitors click through to the NBC-TV show sites, they are rewarded with lots of video clips and interactive games. For instance, the site for the new drama series "Titans" featured seven clips and a Shockwave "memory" game even before the first episode aired Wednesday. On Oct. 21, NBCi will start a contest related to the "NBC Saturday Night Movie" series in which users can win "thousands of dollars each week" by answering questions online while watching the show on TV.

"We are making integral connections between TV programming and the Internet," Sanctis said, pointing out that users can create fan clubs for network shows on NBCi. "We want TV viewers to have the ability to reach out, follow story lines and establish relationships with the shows in a more intimate way online."

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At Fox.com, a Flash message announces: "This fall, we're taking it to the . . . Max." Though the note refers specifically to the lead character on the network's new show, "Dark Angel," the concept can be applied to the cyber-locales for other Fox series.

A retooled "Ally McBeal" site (http://www.allymcbeal.com) launched Monday, with new features including "Ask Ally," in which users can submit their problems and get answers via Flash animation cartoons and written missives from characters on the show. Launching on Oct. 23, the day of the season premiere, a guest columnist will supply an editorial about a controversial plot issue, and users will be able to personalize voodoo dolls with photos and graphics and then e-mail them to friends.

The site for "FreakyLinks" (http://www.freakylinks.com) ties directly into the plot line of the new sci-fi show, which premieres tonight. The occult site, which effectively appears to be the same one run by protagonist Derek Barnes, is actually maintained by series creator Gregg Hale ("The Blair Witch Project").

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