Web Mastery

Advertising execs say Vance and Dwight Opperman's purchase of a share of Channel 4000 suggests that publishers are still struggling to make money on the Net.

WITH ITS ANNOUNCEMENTS over the last week of several new strategic partnerships, Channel 4000 seems one step closer to answering the online publishing question of the hour: How to make money as a World Wide Web content provider. The answer, according to the advertising industry? Not by selling advertising, but by putting other people's editorial products on the Net.

Key Investments, a partnership formed by former West Publishing moguls Vance Opperman and his father, Dwight, last week purchased a 12.5 percent stake in Channel 4000, touted as the most-visited local website in the country. The site, which acts as the online arm of WCCO, followed with announcements of other partnerships. Sun Newspapers will provide community news; the Minnesota Sports Channel will relaunch its section of Channel 4000; and, possibly the feather in C4K's cap, the St. Paul Pioneer Press' online service, Pioneer Planet, will pitch in arts and entertainment content. Meanwhile, Andrea Yoch, marketing director at WCCO Radio, will join Channel 4000. C4K General Manager R.T. Rybak says the service is making money and describes the new partnerships as strengthening the website.

Local online industry sources, however, suggest that from Channel 4000's perspective, the marriage may have been prompted by the need for an infusion of cash. Owned by the Edina-based Internet Broadcasting Systems, C4K failed to cement some long-awaited contracts to build and run clones at CBS affiliates across the country, they say. As for Web-based advertising, "Channel 4000 is not real represented out there in terms of ad sales," says Jim Houck, interactive media specialist at Fallon McElligott. "I don't think Channel 4000 is going to be able to make ends meet as an editorial outlet."

Most news media outlets sell their online editions to advertisers as extra exposure. That would help explain the interest from Opperman, who has been seeking ways to move Key Investments' burgeoning publishing portfolio online. Channel 4000 already carries content from Opperman properties Mpls./St.Paul, Minnesota Law & Politics, and Twin Cities Business Monthly. One of Opperman's long-rumored goals is the creation of another local rival for Microsoft's online entertainment guide, Sidewalk.

While he insists finances are fine, Rybak agrees that Channel 4000's new partners hope to sell the popular site as a bonus for existing clients. "More and more advertisers are looking for a way to have a presence on the Net," he says. "Our partners can go to their advertisers and say, 'keep advertising with us and we'll give you that presence on the web.'"

Will it work? Maybe, according to Houck. "The jury," he sums up, "is still way out on whether you can make money on the Internet."

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

WHEN THE MINNESOTA Legislature added bias-crime enhancements to the law a couple years ago, it meant for acts of gay-bashing and race-baiting would be subject to harsher penalties. But as it turns out, even though Minneapolis prosecutors recently secured the state's first conviction under the law, a series of recent anti-gay crimes won't be charged under the provision.

In the recent case which successfully put the bias-crime laws to the test, two gay men were physically assaulted by a couple of skinheads. But a man charged with twice vandalizing A Brother's Touch Bookstore and the now-defunct Kalli's Kitchen, both in Minneapolis, faces stricter sentencing guidelines if his case is charged as a property crime rather than a hate crime. "In this instance, the bias crime is a lesser charge," explains Minneapolis prosecutor Joe Young. First-degree criminal damage to property is a felony, whereas a bias charge in this instance would be a gross misdemeanor. Another city attorney concedes this is "unusual," and that some kinks in the law may need to be worked out. "It's not the first time," she adds dryly, "that holes have appeared after [a law's] implementation."

AROUND TOWN

"Mayor Belton Rules"--Graffiti that appeared on South Fourth Street after Minneapolis's Sharon Sayles Belton announced her administration's latest anti-tagging initiative.

WATCH FOR FALLING APPLES

AS IF A governor's race composed largely of the disappointing offspring of Minnesota political greats weren't enough: Democratic Party maven and Minnesota Law & Politics columnist Carol Connolly says Mary Sue Perpich is planning to run for Rod Grams's Senate seat. Yes, that's Rudy and Lola's kid.

 
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