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AT&T's animation gives spam a new image

AT&T thinks its new animated email will attract fewer complaints about ad pitches since entertainment will be added to the content.

Mention video email, and some people picture seasonal greetings from distant loved ones singing Jingle Bells over the Christmas turkey. But the images that will be flowing through AT&T WorldNet Service's new video email service are certain to include a large side dish of spam.

Instead of simply telling you about the beaches of Bermuda, travel agencies can send the waves lapping over your laptop. AT&T officials think consumers will continue to accept or ignore unwanted advertising as a trade-off for an entertaining new service.

"To my knowledge, there is not another Internet service provider offering this," said AT&T spokeswoman Janet Wyles. "We're the only ones to offer Internet video email that doesn't require the user or receiver to load extra software."

AT&T WorldNet has stepped up its advertising lately, and sees a vast market among its 60 million long-distance customers. With AT&T's consumer division soon to split from its wireless and broadband siblings, officials are looking for ways to broaden the services menu of the dial-up service.

Under its contract with Fremont, Calif.-based Talkway Communications, AT&T is offering 60 minutes of free video email to AT&T WorldNet subscribers. While receivers need no special equipment or software, senders need only a camera and microphone, which AT&T is selling as a package for US$29.95.

In the interactive TV arena, AT&T Broadband is backing off plans to introduce the next-generation DCT 5000 set-top box with software supplied by Microsoft. Instead, the nation's largest cable operator will upgrade the three million DCT 2000 boxes already in customers' homes.

On a related front, AT&T has launched a legal battle with Microsoft over software that decodes voice signals. In the lawsuit, AT&T claims that a Microsoft program violates AT&T's patent for speech coding, which allows audio- and video conference calls over the Internet.