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AOL Headed For TVs In Y2K

America Online, the internet service provider with over 17 million subscribers, announced partnerships with DirecTv, Hughes Network Systems (HNS), Network Computer Inc. and Philips to deliver Internet enhanced television products next year.

Called AOL TV, the new service will use TV set-top boxes manufactured by Philips and HNS and NCI's TV Navigator software platform to link television programming with data and graphics enhancements from the Internet. The products, which will compete with WebTV's services and products, are part of the online service's "AOL Anywhere" strategy to make AOL available through multiple connections and devices, the service provider said.

"With our strong focus on consumers, we will deliver the best interactive TV product available anywhere, and with our interactive relationship with our members, we can explain and sell these new ideas," said Barry Schuler, AOL Interactive president in a prepared statement.

Presumably the service would also offer current AOL subscribers the ability to tie in AOL TV applications with their existing AOL desk-top accounts, although an AOL spokesperson could not elaborate on how that would be executed. Product specifics and pricing are still being determined, she said.

Sam Baumel, HNS broadcast product & services national accounts marketing director, said his company will offer a hybrid DirecTv/AOL TV box designed to link television delivered by the DBS service with AOL TV data. The box will access standard DirecTv programming in the traditional way, and will access AOL TV content through a 56Kbps modem phone connection.

Both the HNS and Philips AOL TV-enabled devices will be upgradeable to broadband Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) systems, AOL said.

DirecTv "will collaborate with AOL on a new service that combines digital satellite television programming from DirecTv with AOL TV's enhanced interactive television Internet service," the satellite provider said.

HNS will have an exclusive on a combination AOL TV/DirecTv box for an undisclosed period of time, and plans to distribute the product through its traditional dealer network, Baumel said.

The Philips product will be "an advanced set-top box" enabled for AOL TV, but not including a DirecTv receiver. It is expected to compete directly with the WebTV and WebTV Plus products that are currently marketed by Philips, in addition to Mitsubishi, Samsung and Sony.