develop and promote a global information and entertainment center for consumers on the Internet. Executives from Visa U.S.A. and Sony Corporation of America gathered at Sony's U.S. headquarters in New York on Thursday to announce the creation of the multifaceted World Wide Web site called Sony Station, which they said will be in operation by next spring. As part of the deal, consumers who want to buy Sony products and services from Sony Station must use Visa credit and debit cards. Some observers quickly took issue with that provision. Sony and Visa "are trying to get the message out that the only secure payment mechanism (on the Internet) is Visa," said David Weisman, senior analyst with Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass. "Meanwhile, there are other security schemes being developed that are equally good." "It doesn't sound like the world we're moving to in electronic commerce," Mr. Weisman said. "It's going in the wrong direction." The arrangement works best for Visa, said Gary Arlen, a consultant in Bethesda, Md. "Exclusivity is where you want to be," he said, playing off Visa's long-running advertising theme, "It's everywhere you want to be." And the Visa/Sony creation comes at a time when the World Wide Web is rapidly changing. "People are realizing the Web isn't good for everybody and everything," he said, adding the new Web will have more of these proprietary sites that are transaction oriented. Visa U.S.A. president Carl Pascarella called the partnership a "breakthrough in media alliances." What have been missing in electronic commerce today, he said, are security and trust - two elements that Visa and Sony can offer consumers. Given what Sony can bring in quality products and services, Mr. Pascarella said, "and what we can bring in terms of secured transaction technology, we will have an unbeatable combination on the Internet and something that will act as a springboard for electronic commerce." "We are defining how business will be done in the future over the Net," said Michael P. Schulhof, president and chief executive of Sony Corporation of America. Before Sony Station becomes a reality, however, Visa and MasterCard International must come to terms on an industry standard to allow secure transactions over the Internet. Mr. Pascarella said Visa and MasterCard technology officials met on Wednesday to continue the process. "We are of the firm belief that, number one, standards are not in a competitive battlefield." The differences between the Visa/Microsoft Corp. side and MasterCard/Netscape Communications side are minimal, said Mr. Pascarella. "For something as important as this, we believe that this has to be a fast convergence." Jana Weatherbee, a MasterCard spokeswoman, said MasterCard remains hopeful that there will be a security standard. "We hope to come to one specification." Consumers who visit Sony Station will be able to browse in a virtual mall of sorts, moving from pavilions and attractions that represent programs, products, and services from Sony. The products and services come from Sony Electronics, Sony Music Entertainment, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Sony Interactive Entertainment, SW Networks, Sony Signatures, the company's licensing and merchandising operation, and Sony Retail Entertainment, including Sony Theatres. Consumers will be able to download software, order compact disks, rent or buy movies, and play on-line versions of popular television game shows, such as "The Dating Game," "Jeopardy," and "Wheel of Fortune." Sony officials said there will be more than 100 different programs, including new ones. Sony Station will incorporate the company's current Web site, and will be hyperlinked to Visa's Web site. "There will be thousands of Web sites," said Jeff Sagansky, executive vice president of Sony Corp., "but only one will have the Sony name and the Visa marketing clout." Eventually, Visa-branded smart cards would be accepted for payment at Sony Station, the companies said. When that time comes, Sony will build smart card readers into personal computers and other interactive equipment, said Todd Chaffee, senior vice president of advanced payment systems at Visa International. So, in the future, when consumers connect to Sony Station, it will be personalized. Meanwhile, Mr. Chaffee said, the goal is to make the transaction - whether it is paid with a credit, debit, or smart card - fast, accurate, and secure to keep with Visa's goal: "Make the event a nonevent."
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