RealTime IT News

Reach Out and Buy Something

Taking another step into the prepaid micropayments space, AT&T has teamed with Accenture to launch what it calls the AT&T PrePaid Web Cents service, which lets consumers buy digital content using cards purchased in real-world retail outlets, including various convenience stores and gas stations.

By the end of April, cards will be available in about 4,000 retail stores across the country, AT&T said. Content partners at launch include Cellus USA for mobile phone gear, Disney Online, Shockwave.com's GameBlast and hand-held information service provider Vindigo.

The move represents another step into micropayments for AT&T, which launched a pre-paid Internet access service in October of 2001.

In the case of the Web Cents service, AT&T said it teamed with management consulting and technology services company Accenture, which is providing its proprietary digital settlements solution to manage the financial transactions between AT&T and content providers.

The new service is aimed at those who can't or won't use a credit card for online purchases for security or privacy reasons, said John Polumbo, president of AT&T Consumer.

And of course that includes children and teen-agers. "The Disney content obviously is of interest to kids," said AT&T spokesman Gary Morgenstern.

"It's a way to get to a teen audience with disposable income," he told internetnews.com. But it's not aimed solely at youngsters.

"This really is just another flavor of the merchant-specific gift card," said Rob Leathern, an analyst at Jupiter Research. "Already you can buy third-party gift cards (Nordstrom, Home Depot, etc.) at the supermarket, the only difference here is that it will be specific to an online content company. I certainly think this is a positive step, but I think the hype outweighs the true ability to move the market,"

"Powering existing phone cards to be used for online payment is a much sexier and more interesting concept that some vendors have been working on (like DuoCash) and I had hoped that this would be that, but it is not," he said.

AT&T sees the move as a logical extension of what it already does,

"We are supplementing the traditional e-commerce methodology by putting it into the real world retail space -- leveraging our pre-paid phone card platform into a whole new business for us," Morgenstern said. "We're not looking to compete with the credit card business or the gift card business -- we are looking at digital content where the retailer gets a piece of the online business."

Disney Online is planning cards for two of its online offerings: Disney's Blast, a subscription-based, advertising-free online service that offers more than 100 games and activities in a secure environment; and Disney's Toontown, a massively multiplayer 3D online game for kids and families. Details and timing have not been announced yet.

To use the Web Cents card, a consumer logs on to the content provider's Web site directly or through the AT&T PrePaid Web Cents site. The consumer is prompted to enter the serial number and PIN printed on the back of the card to begin purchasing digital content.

Content available will eventually include interactive games, ring tones, graphics, maps, guidebooks, digital music, streaming audio and video, software, even research services.

Each content provider in the AT&T network has its own cards, which are good only on their sites. They're priced from $9.99 to $29.99. Pre-paid weekly, monthly or annual subscriptions also will be made available. A spokesman said AT&T estimates the potential market for non-adult subscription content online could be $6 billion by 2006.