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"The technology gap is causing a tremendous potential for social conflict, and it is critical not to dismiss such concerns."

--Ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, warning a conference on information technology about the new haves and have-nots.EDITED BY MARCIA STEPANEKReturn to top

THE NFL BENCHES QUICKIE ADS

IT COULD BE A WHOLE NEW BALL GAME this fall--thanks to a new twist in the National Football League's 1998-99 season contract with broadcasters. Pressed by top sponsors, the NFL will cut the number of video "vignettes" during breaks in game action, ending quickie in-game ads like McDonald's "Game Break" and Alcoa's "You Make the Call."

These minispots were stealing too much thunder to suit official NFL sponsors, each of which pay up to $25 million a season for the right to advertise during games and use the NFL logo on their products. Sprint Promotions Manager Pam Kramer called the in-game vignettes "a competitive ambush. They created confusion as to who the official sponsor was."

The offending vignettes will now be limited to run only before and after the games or during halftime. McDonald's says it is reviewing the new NFL rule and doesn't know what will become of its "Game Break." Neither Fox nor ABC would comment, but sources say the networks will be given extra commercial breaks worth up to $1 million a game to help make up for lost revenue. The result: Fans may get hit with fewer commercials--or may not even notice.EDITED BY MARCIA STEPANEKReturn to top

WAS THIS WHITE HOUSE BUG ALL BUZZ?

IT WAS AN ADVERTISING COUP for Volkswagen that sounded too good to be true: A report that Bill and Hillary Clinton bought daughter Chelsea a new 1998 Beetle, in black.

Turns out it was too good to be true. Marsha Berry, Mrs. Clinton's press secretary, told BUSINESS WEEK there is no First Beetle. The report was first put out in June by Internet gossip-hound Matt Drudge, then picked up by newspapers from San Diego to New York--even prompting Big Three lobbyist Andrew Card to say he wished Clinton had bought American, instead.

But Drudge, who broke the Monica Lewinsky scandal, is also standing by his Beetle story. He says he was tipped off by a dealer, but won't name his source.

VW, for its part, is hardly stopping the rumors--as if the Beetle really needed more publicity. Spokeswoman Karla Waterhouse, before Berry's denial, had said Volkswagen believed that "Chelsea's parents have bought her a Beetle. I think it's pretty cool that Chelsea's got one." Even now, though, Waterhouse is reluctant to change the company line very much. "We don't want to interfere with the Clintons' privacy," she says. The White House, however, is insisting that this is a bug that should be squashed.EDITED BY MARCIA STEPANEKReturn to top

HAVE ANOTHER SIP OF SEATTLE

RAIN AND SEATTLE ARE SYNONYMOUS. Now, the Seattle City Council wants to capitalize on that connection. Council members are mulling a new plan to bottle their city's water, label it Seattle Rain, and sell it nationally. Revenues from bottled water sales could provide relief to miffed Seattleites--and even fund a new local project to protect salmon habitat.

Residents have long complained about their water bills. The water fee has been rising 9% annually, fueled by the demands of a population influx. Revenues from water fees are used to maintain the city's pipelines. If approved by a consultant later this summer, Seattle Rain could start selling nationally as early as next year.

Seattle is not the first city to market its water. Ohio sells its Holy Toledo label, Kansas City raves about its City of Fountains brand, and San Francisco is thinking about marketing a Hetch Hetchy label, named for a reservoir in Yosemite National Park. But Seattle pols insist their product is really special. In fact, they say, the secret of Seattle's success just might be in the water.EDITED BY MARCIA STEPANEKReturn to top


Toyota's Hydrogen Man
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