DreamWorks Might Sell Web site

Friday, September 1st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Pop.com, the long-awaited entry into the Internet entertainment world from Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks studio, may be sold before it even debuts.

DreamWorks is in talks to sell its struggling Web site to IFILM, an independent film portal, said Vivian Mayer, a DreamWorks spokeswoman.

It was not clear whether the deal would be a merger or an acquisition or how the privately held companies would finance the transaction.

The fate of the management team at Pop.com was also undetermined, as was the status of deals Pop.com has already reached with artists such as Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy.

DreamWorks and director Ron Howard's Imagine Entertainment announced the creation of Pop.com in October, back when several high-profile Web sites talked of becoming networks, creating a lineup of original television-like shows, animation and short films.

The sites were the darlings of investors, who poured millions into such promising ventures as the Digital Entertainment Network.

Then DEN suddenly closed its doors in May after burning through millions and filing for bankruptcy protection. About the same time, stock valuations for Internet companies began to drop as investors became wary about companies that accumulated losses without any clear plans for profitability.

``The whole business climate changed,'' Howard told The Associated Press recently. ``It used to be you staked a claim, went out with an IPO and the public would back you. That's the not the case anymore.''

Howard admitted that the delay in launching Pop.com was due to the inexperience of managers who failed to understand how much work it would take to launch such an ambitious project.

``We underestimated the technical complexity of getting it up and running,'' Howard said. ``We were maybe a little overzealous and naive on what it takes to get a site running that doesn't crash.''

Many entertainment Web companies have changed their strategies, striking deals with studios to act as incubators for ideas that may eventually become television shows or films. Icebox.com recently signed a deal to move one of its animated shows to the Showtime cable network as a live-action series.

``Given their late entry into the market, it probably does make sense for them to find a partner who has been building an audience and can help them leverage the products they've been creating,'' Steve Stanford, chief executive at Icebox, said of Pop.com.

IFILM began in 1998 as a site featuring original short films and programs, but decided earlier this year to recast itself as a portal and a site for industry professionals through its IFILMPro service. The company recently agreed to produce 26 episodes of a magazine-style television show for the Independent Film Channel cable network.

IFILM is led by chief executive officer Kevin Wendle, who helped launch the Fox television network, developing such shows as ``Married ... with Children'' and ``The Simpsons,'' alongside Barry Diller.

Wendle also served as president of CNET and was one of the founders of E! Online, which began as a joint venture of CNET and E! Entertainment Television.

Jeff Berg, the chief executive officer of the talent firm International Creative Management, calls Wendle ``a compelling business leader,'' and cites his involvement with IFILM as a reason Berg invested in the company.

``He's a guy I pay attention to,'' Berg said.


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