Try Software Before You Buy

SAN FRANCISCO (05/12/2000) - Think of it as a virtual jukebox for software--or, pay-per-view for your PC.

However you think of it, the new PlayNow service from Into Networks could change the way you try and buy new software.

The new broadband, content-on-demand service offers dozens of software titles that subscribers can access. The catch is that you need high-speed Internet access--whether it's through cable or digital subscriber lines.

"We deliver on demand," says Bill Holding, vice president of marketing for Into Networks. "That requires the fat pipe. We're not downloading and installing software on your computer. It's click-and-play access, and you can't do that over narrowband."

The company has grown through its partnerships with companies such as Comcast Corp., Excite@Home Inc., MediaOne Group Inc., Northpoint Communications Group Inc., Time Warner Inc., and US West Inc. Into Networks now counts about 500,000 cable and DSL subscribers in 45 markets who have potential access to its PlayNow service.

And those customers now have access to even more titles. This week, Into Networks announced agreements with a dozen software development companies, including DK Interactive Learning, Hasbro Inc., Lotus Development Corp., and Zane Publishing Inc. They've added titles to the PlayNow play lists. That brings to about 20 the total number of companies providing content for PlayNow, Holding says.

Trial Time

Holding describes PlayNow as "HBO for your computer." Customers sign up for PlayNow "channels" just as they would sign up for different channels with their cable providers.

Customers must first download a small software program called the "IntoPlayer," which allows real-time access to PlayNow titles. Subscribers can try out the full versions of any software title for free. The concept is much the same as music fans walking into Tower Records, putting on a pair of headphones, and listening to new CDs before buying them.

"People need the same experience in software," Holding says.

PlayNow subscribers can "rent" any single software title for two days for $2.99. Or, they can pay a monthly fee of $5.99 for unlimited use of all titles on any single PlayNow channel. They can also choose to pay $9.99 monthly for unlimited access to all three PlayNow channels. Those include the Kids Channel (described as educational and edutainment), the Lifestyle Channel (home improvement, self-improvement, home office), and the Games Channel.

"It certainly begins to fulfill the long-term need of broadband, and that's rich content," says Michael Goodman, a senior analyst at the Yankee Group, who's tried out several PlayNow titles. "Speed is nice, but you have to give people something else to do."

Holding says Into Networks plans to offer about 100 different titles at any one time and to add more channels in the future.

The company is not the first to enter this area. Media Station is also offering software on demand. Last year, it began similar partner efforts with broadband operators and content providers. Its service is called SelectPlay.

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