First Internet channel to come with own soap

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The Independent Online
MARIANNE MACDONALD

Media Correspondent

The world's first Internet channel, boasting a schedule of programmes similar to those on television, is to be launched in Britain next month.

The project is being pioneered by the Cyberia Cafe chain, the London- based computer cafe group that serves coffee, on-line access and technical help to anyone who wants to surf the Net.

Channel Cyberia, as it is called, is not unlike Channel 4 in that it offers a host channel filled by "programmes" made by independent producers. It will also mirror conventional channels in that it plans to publish programme listings and even use ITN to provide news.

Also on offer will be a financial news service, a sports slot, film reviews, and a motoring feature by Steve McFadden - who plays the garage owner Phil Mitchell in EastEnders.

It will even launch with a visual soap opera called Outsiders, with every scene available from the point of view of each character. With little dialogue, it will be text-based but with cartoon and photography elements - like reading a novel. Outsiders will have two episodes a week with a weekend omnibus.

Similarly to ITV and Channel 4, the Internet channel staffed by eight people will offer advertisements - but these will be played only on request. When the advertisement's logo is clicked it will play.

Keith Teare, controller of Channel Cyberia, said the concept would introduce the notion of time to the Internet because the "programmes" would go out at set times, just as on television.

However, in other ways the new channel would be more like a magazine at first because it would be restricted to text, photography and graphics with minimal audio-visual content.

Cyberia expects to be able to deliver CD-Rom quality material on-line within months and improve on sound and moving pictures by the end of the year.

The channel began a preview service this week on http://channel.cyberiacafe.net/. It will launch on 22 May at the Internet World Conference in London and hopes to attract over 2 million viewers within three years. It expects to be in profit by August, anticipating initial advertising revenue of pounds 50,000 a month rising to pounds 2m next year.

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