Xtra, Xtra - Telecom's Internet launch imminent

Telecom has put in place the infrastructure of a $90 million online empire, encompassing electronic banking, news delivery, investment, computer communications, directories and entertainment. Annual budgets are projected at $25 million to $30 million.

Although senior Telecom executive Chris Tyler sought last week to play down the content aspect of Telecom online services - set to see daylight with the launch of Telecom Xtra on May 15 - Telecom has been discussing buying the services of most of the country's major information providers, including TVNZ, Independent Radio News, Radio New Zealand and INL.

@IDG has also found a block of about 500 IP addresses reserved by Telecom. Live machines in the range included www.tef.telecom.co.nz, www.directories.telecom.co.nz and www.invest.telecom.co.nz. There are also many live machines under xtra.co.nz and tols.co.nz, which appear to cover the consumer end of Telecom's online plans. The machine ingate.telecom.co.nz seems to be Telecom's own gateway at Waikato.

Although Tyler said last week that "we will not be a content provider per se," he conceded that Telecom Xtra had a managing editor, Auckland journalist Nigel Horrocks.

Meanwhile, IRN general manager Lorna Riley has confirmed that she has been negotiating over the potential sale of a "text-based news and sports service" to Telecom. "We're still discussing it, but we should be clearer about our involvement in about two weeks' time."

Discussions with TVNZ News and Current Affairs are also ongoing, but seem less likely to bear fruit unless, as one source says, "Telecom fronts up with a bucketload of money" to induce TVNZ to drop its own dreams of an online service. There will also be a reluctance to see Telecom, as the dominant carrier, grab too much of the content market.

"Telecom has been sniffing around everywhere to sign up content," says the source. "But it looks less like a strategy than an exercise in going around and picking everyone's brains."

Horrocks, an Auckland journalist, was recruited to Telecom Xtra late last year. It is understood the Xtra service will concentrate initially on just getting online by launch date, but that content will be scaled up progressively. Staff of Future Pacific, the online version of Planet magazine, have been contracted to create a "youth magazine" site and, given Horrocks' own interests, other music and lifestyle content seems a certainty.

Most Aucklanders will probably know Horrocks better as a jazz buff than a journalist. He hosted a string of highly-regarded jazz shows on Auckland student station 95 bFM - and an insider suggests that the atmosphere at Telecom Xtra is "jeans and bFM on the radio, not at all corporate. Nigel has a young team, and has apparently been told to do as he sees fit and to push the boundaries."

Horrocks' professional profile has never been high, but he has been influential - most notably as a management consultant for the implementation of Radio New Zealand's Newstalk network, a key element in preparations for the sale of the commercial network.

Horrocks began his journalism career in the 1970s as one of the Auckland Star's bright young men, but after a stint in the Press Gallery moved to Radio i in Auckland, where he became news editor. He worked briefly at a similar role at Radio Pacific and then for three years as editor at Newstalk ZB in Auckland.

His departure to teach media courses at AIT was, says a friend, typical: "Nigel's an independent thinker. He's never been one to toe the line for management. He works very hard and he doesn't suffer fools gladly."

Horrocks left AIT for the consultancy job at RNZ, but returned last year. Now an Internet user, he has added a good deal of new media content into his classes, and also writes the "Logged On" column in the New Zealand Herald.

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