US West Nears Deal for Internet Movies

By Steve Rosenbush
USA Today, New York, NY, Thursday, February 19, 1998
US West is close to signing a distribution deal with Intertainer, a start-up venture that provides movies, music and other forms of entertainment to PCs over telephone and cable TV lines.

US West plans to roll out the service as a feature of its new high-speed Internet access service, to be available in 40 cities during the next year. It would be the biggest deployment of entertainment services over telephone wires.

Local phone companies that dreamed of providing video over their networks during the mid 1990s formed two programming groups, Tele-TV and Americast. US West is making the first major foray into convergence since those ventures stumbled.

"We are very near to, but have not yet signed, an agreement," says Joe Zell, president of data networking at US West Communications. He said he expects a deal within a few weeks.

Intertainer executives attended a US West investment conference in New York Wednesday, and Intertainer co-Chairman Jonathan Taplin met Tuesday night with Solomon Turjillo, CEO of the communications unit.

"From my point of view, we have reached an agreement, although neither group has signed it," Taplin says.

Intertainer also has demonstrated its technology to Bell Atlantic and GTE, and Taplin expects to strike more distribution agreements within three months.

He cites two reasons why this partnership can succeed in delivering video over phone wires.

Costs are lower. Cable TV operator Comcast is only spending about $500 per home to provide Intertainer to its customers, Taplin says.

US West customers will pay $50 to $60 a month for basic high-speed Internet access. Intertainer will provide movies and programs for an additional pay-per-view charge.

The company was conceived by entertainment people, not telecommunications people. Taplin and Intertainer co-founder Richard Baskin are like baby boomers on steroids.

Taplin graduated from Princeton, worked as a roadie for Janis Joplin and a tour manager for Bob Dylan and The Band. He produced more than a dozen films, including Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets. He also worked as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch.

Baskin composed and produced the score to the movie Nashville and has directed videos and music specials for Elton John, Rod Stewart and the Temptations.