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Lancit and JuniorNet merge in an early-bird convergence effort

In hopes of fine-tuning a convergence-ready kids production entity before the dawning of the Web TV era, heavy hitter U.S. Internet Service Provider RCN Corporation has merged Lancit Media with ROM-line service developer JuniorNet. In a US$70-million financing deal, RCN acquired...
June 1, 1999

In hopes of fine-tuning a convergence-ready kids production entity before the dawning of the Web TV era, heavy hitter U.S. Internet Service Provider RCN Corporation has merged Lancit Media with ROM-line service developer JuniorNet. In a US$70-million financing deal, RCN acquired a 47.5% ownership stake in JuniorNet for US$47 million, and sold Lancit to JuniorNet for US$25 million.

Launched in March, Boston-based JuniorNet combines a CD-ROM and on-line hook-up (thus, ROM-line), which speeds up bandwidth, reduces download time and allows for constant content refreshment from the Web. JuniorNet targets kids ages three to 12 with interactive edutainment gleaned from exclusive agreements with children’s mags like Sports Illustrated for Kids, Highlights for Children, Zillions and Ranger Rick.

Lancit, creator of Emmy Award-winning PBS preschool program Reading Rainbow and teen wilderness adventure Outward Bound, brings a fully-developed production lineup to the JuniorNet table. The newly merged companies will now focus on creating properties that can cross over between the two mediums. ‘We all know that the melding of the Web and TV is on the way,’ says Cecily Truett, co-president and co-founder of Lancit. ‘In creating the relationship between JuniorNet and Lancit, we’re aiming to be ready with a broadband media service for kids that will already be tried and true.’

Currently on Lancit’s slate are: Putt Putt `n Pals, a half-hour, cel-animated co-production with Nelvana-based on a CD-ROM line by Humongous Entertainment- for which a 2000 broadcast deal is being hammered out; The Zack Files, a live-action series in development with Canada’s Decode Entertainment (based on a book series by Dan Greenburg); and The Saddle Club, a 26 x half-hour, live-action tube extension of a 65-title girls book series by Bonnie Bryant. Co-production negotiations are underway with an international broadcaster for this series about horse-lovin’ tweens, to be completed by 2000.

RCN is mapping out a plan to incorporate the JuniorNet kids service into its regular subscription package for a nominal extra fee. David McCourt, RCN chairman and CEO, hopes the addition will attract the lucrative young family demo to the ISP at www.rcn.com, which currently nets 500,000 subscribers. JL

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Banking on the draw of urban hip-hop culture, Santa Monica, California’s Activision is in development on Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style, an arena-based fighting game for the 12 and up crowd starring the multiplatinum-selling rap group Wu-Tang Clan. Designed for Sony’s PlayStation console, the game will feature three exclusive Wu-Tang music tracks when it hits retail in the fall.

Kenny and the gang are gearing up for a PlayStation debut as well this summer. Following up on its one million unit-selling Nintendo 64 South Park game, Glen Cove, New York-based Acclaim Entertainment is producing the PlayStation title. Although the game officially targets the over-18 set, younger teens will likely clamor to pick up the racy title when it hits shelves in August.

Disney Interactive and Nintendo of America have inked a deal to develop a portfolio of games for the Nintendo 64 (N64) and Color Game Boy (CGB) platforms. As part of the agreement, Mickey Mouse will make a 3-D appearance in a title trio comprised of a Mickey racing game (CGB), a Disney racing game (N64 and CGB) and a Mickey adventure title (PC CD-ROM and CGB). The games, which will be created by Donkey Kong Country developer Rare Ltd., are slated for a retail debut during the holiday seasons of 1999, 2000 and 2001 respectively.

Another term of the deal will see Disney Interactive develop CGB titles Beauty and the Beast and Alice in Wonderland for a fall `99 retail rollout. The two-pack represents the Mouse House digital arm’s new focus on girl games.

Video game giant Sega is experiencing flagging sales of the Dreamcast console and software in Japan. Since its launch in that market last November, Dreamcast has sold 900,000 units, falling 10% short of its projected tally, and software sales results were even lower, totalling just 3 million units against a projected 5 million. The company is slashing its workforce by 1,000 jobs in order to offset fiscal losses of US$378 million for the year ending March 31. Having originally forecast a net profit of US$13.4 million for the year, Sega pointed the finger at difficulties in its U.S., U.K. and Australian operations, as well as the Dreamcast disappointment, as reasons for the poor financial finish.

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