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Virtual Newscaster To Make Debut

April 18, 2000

LONDON (AP) _ She has green hair, big eyes, slightly jerky movements and a vaguely American accent. She says she is ``the face of the future.″

Her developers hope she’s a gold mine.

Ananova _ billed as the world’s first virtual newscaster _ makes her debut Wednesday on the Internet. With a click of a mouse, computer users around the world can have breaking news bulletins read to them by the glamorous cyber-anchor, programmed to exude a range of human emotions.

Her creators promise that is just the beginning.

``She’s a lot more than a talking head that reads the news,″ Mark Hird, publishing director at Ananova Ltd., said Tuesday in launching the creation to the media. ``She’s a computer with a face in front of it, not a face with nothing much behind it. It’s a phenomenal information resource.″

In addition to the virtual newscasts _ which are delivered TV-style by a head-and-shoulders Ananova and come complete with a commercial break _ users can arrange to receive tailored e-mail bulletins on subjects that interest them, from sports scores to stock alerts. Just as with a host of other Web sites, they also can browse entertainment listings, buy tickets and make use of Ananova’s dedicated search engine.

``I’m your personal assistant in a digital world,″ the animated cyberanchor said from a video screen at the media launch.

Ananova was developed by Britain’s Press Association news agency, which has gone so far as to rename its new media division Ananova Ltd.

Ananova ``will completely change the way we communicate,″ said Vivienne Adshead, the company’s commercial director.

Others were more muted in their assessment.

``It’s quite a cute idea,″ said Rebecca Ulph, an analyst with Internet specialists Fletcher Research Ltd in London. ``I think it will appeal to the younger end of the market and people who are new to the Internet, people who want a filtering mechanism through all the news that’s out there.

``It’s a marketing idea, rather than anything really innovative or exciting,″ she added.

But several Internet watchers said they were unaware of anything else like it in cyberspace.

``It’s tempting to say it’s a gimmick, but I think it sounds like a very good idea,″ said Cliff Douse, editor of British-based Internet Advisor magazine.

Ananova has a definite glamour factor: She bears more than a passing resemblance to Posh Spice, a.k.a. Victoria Beckham, and several designers reportedly have expressed interest in fashioning her wardrobe. But her creators dismissed claims that she’s just another cyber-babe along the lines of Internet icon Lara Croft, buxom heroine of the video game Tomb Raider.

``We did some tests and in general people said they preferred to get their information from a woman,″ Adshead said. ``She’s been designed to appeal, though, to both men and women. She’s not a babe. She’s a sophisticated real-time computer system.″

She’s also, her developers hope, a nice little earner who will generate revenue through various e-commerce partnerships and ``commercially confidential″ projects.

The company will not reveal how much their anchor cost to develop or how much they hope to bring in when Ananova Ltd. is sold in the next few months, though a sale figure of $400 million has been reported. Robert Simpson, Ananova’s chief executive officer, said the firm is talking with bidders and expects to announce a sale in the next month or two.

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On the Net: http://www.ananova.com

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