"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 26 February 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.



[Ted Leonsis]

In a head-to-head match up, who

would win - Newman, the

loathsome lunkhead mail carrier

of television's popular Seinfeld,

or his duplicitous doppelganger,

Ted Leonsis, president of

America Online? While they might

share the same weight class,

Newman, it seems, has slightly

more muscle, and it's he - or,

at least, his show - that wins

the audience tug-of-war on

Thursday nights.



But Leonsis is not about to take

this lying down - he's standing

up for himself. Standing up on

stage, as a matter of fact - on

stage at last week's TEDSell.

This four-day meeting of the

minds, which cost two fat G's a

head, had attendees sitting at

the feet of would-be uberati,

soaking up tips regarding the

get-rich opportunities of the

digital future.



When Leonsis took the soap box,

he spun a tale of the future of

the Internet and online services

that would put Bill Gates to

shame. Although the general

reaction from the audience was

not exactly a standing ovation,

for us Sucksters, the speech

bordered on a religious



[Furry Animal]

It seems that Leonsis doesn't

care much for the net. He also

doesn't care much for wives,

children, and small furry

animals, but that's another

story. Since this was TEDSell,

the jargonspeak was in full

gear, and there seemed to be a

running competition among

TEDSell's speakers to see who

could most creatively use - or

misuse - the term "value chain."

Leonsis may very well get the

award, since he used the term in

at least three different

contradictory ways in the course

of telling us the Web is dead,

long live AOL, and pity the poor

fools like us who harbor

delusions that we'll ever see a

dime out of anything built on

the Web. The Web, you see, is at

the bottom of the value chain,

and Leonsis made it clear who's

at the top.



Content producers, in Leonsis's

view, need to wake up, turn off

the Java, and smell the coffee.

Web publishing needs to be a

"vocation, not an avocation."

Not that it makes much of a

difference to Leonsis, really,

since if you're not in Hollywood

or Vienna, Virginia, you're not

only out of the loop, you're out

of luck. "These aren't websites,

these are gravesites!" the big

man tells us, offering an

opinion we've been known to

embrace ourselves.


[Where's the Money?]

"Where's the money?" he rants on.

People aren't paying to get on

the net - most access is paid

for by work or schools, and when

users foot their own bills, it's

usually some ridiculous flat

fee. Where's the money?! People

aren't paying hourly connect

charges. Can't anyone see how

wrong this is, Ted implores, and

then begs us to help him put

an end to this madness. Browsers

given way free! Servers given

away! No one's making any money



[Value Chain]

Even would-be merger partner

Netscape doesn't get let off the

hook by the AOL honcho.

Comparing the growth of the net

to that of the cable industry,

Leonsis gleefully points out

that Netscape's destiny is not

to be the next Microsoft, but is

more likely to follow in the

path of cable converter box

manufacturer Scientific Atlanta.

Which lands them, of course, at

the bottom of the value chain.

Did we mention who was at the



[TV Guide]

So how does Seinfeld fit into

the picture? The future of the

Web is programming, and Leonsis

isn't talking about CGI scripts.

Competition, for AOL's Mr. Big,

is anything that prevents you

from logging into his service as

soon as you get home. Not

surprisingly, the main

challenger, after spouses and

children, is TV.



From the big board of his control

room, Leonsis and Case can watch

the modem connections dropping

as thousands of AOL users forego

the dubious pleasures of AOL

People Connection in favor of an

evening with Jerry. Seinfeld

is one of the only shows that

puts a dent in AOL's ratings.

(Interestingly, Leonsis argues

that a loser in the couch-potato-

versus-mouse-potato sweeps is

the Cable News Network, raising

the issue of whether or not AOL

is now "the white man's CNN.")

At this moment, wanna-be Web

programmers across the country

are readying their pitches: "I

see it as a combination Seinfeld

and The Spot." May we suggest




We'd like to make Leonsis an

honorary Suckster for his

dazzling insights, but since we

insist in wallowing at the

bottom of the value chain, we

don't think he'd take us up on

the offer. Oh, well, maybe

there's room on AOL for a Suck

forum. From the keyword menu,

choose GO SUCK.

courtesy of Strep Throat