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Internet TV, M@ilTV prepare to do battle

ISP about to be undercut by its own partner in the war for living room loyalty

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TV distributor Alba has revealed plans to bring Internet TV into the homes of millions of Brits. But yesterday the move looked set to place the UK company in direct competition with an earlier deal it had struck with ISP World CallNet. This week Alba saw its share price jump after announcing a deal with Pace Micro Technology to supply sub-£200 TVs with built-in Internet access. Alba, which has dredged back into the annals of television history to name its product the Bush Internet TV, said it planned to start selling the sets in May. The nifty TVs will be aimed at couch potatoes or OAPs cautious of the Net. Viewers will plug the set into a phone line and use a remote control incorporating a keyboard and mouse. The company has chosen Virgin Net to be its ISP for the venture. However, the Internet TVs came as a surprise to World CallNet which plans to launch a similar product with Alba at the end of this month. Alba and World CallNet have signed a deal to supply TVs with email – but no Internet - facilities. The technology, using an interactive text-based service, is to launch at the end of this month. Alba will provide the TVs, while CallNet will provide the email facility. The companies plan to price the sets – called M@ilTVs – at under £200, with a set-top box at less than £50. This is the same price as the Internet TVs - but without the Web facility. CallNet was not aware that Alba had a better product up its sleeve when the two signed the deal for M@ilTV. And CallNet has just eight weeks to make its mark in the sector before the more advanced – but equally priced - TV rival hits the shops. A representative for Alba said the company had chosen Virgin Net over CallNet because of its powerful brand name. But she stressed there were "no bad feelings" between Alba and CallNet. She claimed the Internet TV would not clash with M@ilTV because "some people want email and not the Internet". Though, when pressed, she couldn't actually find any examples of these mystery consumers. "We'll have to wait and see," she concluded. Meanwhile, a representative of CallNet admitted to The Register that the company was in "full, frank and ongoing discussions with Bush Alba" regarding its launch of the rival product. ®

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