Michael Jackson plans on-line chat on three services simultaneously

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Say what you will about Michael Jackson, the word "small" is not in his vocabulary.

While most celebrities are content to hitch their wagon to one on-line service provider for a cyberspace promotional event, the self-styled King of Pop has corraled all three major service providers -- plus the general Internet -- for an evening of moonwalking.

The event, to be held at 7 p.m. Aug. 17, is the first chat simulcast. Although other artists -- notably Aerosmith -- have appeared on all three services in one week, Mr. Jackson will be the first to appear on all at the same time.

"Leave it to Jackson to have engineered it," says Judy Tashbook, an America Online spokeswoman. "To him, the excitement was the possibility of meeting everyone at once."

Even various scandals and the heavily hyped "HIStory" compilation have not dampened the singer's star power enough for any of the services to protest Mr. Jackson's request for a simulcast.

"In this situation, all of us would have liked to have had him for ourselves," says Carol Wallace, a Prodigy spokeswoman. "But we're more than happy to oblige him."

Ms. Wallace says the biggest challenge facing Prodigy was expanding the capacity of its chat room -- a virtual area that users log into to post questions and read responses -- to 5,000. All three services predict that the event will be the largest on-line chat ever -- predicted to draw almost 20,000 users.

Besides the capacity of about 5,000 people on each service, which has never been reached for any celebrity, the Internet Relay Chat area will accept questions from users of the general Internet.

Mr. Jackson will answer questions from each of the services in a round-robin from a Sony studio. Typists from all the providers will transcribe, so that each service will see questions and responses from every group.

Officials say if the event is successful, the services may consider more simulcasts. But it's unlikely, Ms. Wallace says, that anyone else would be able to pull it off.

"If he can't do it, no one will," she says.

To participate in the event on AOL, keyword: Centerstage. On CompuServe, Go Chat. On Prodigy, Jump: Chat.

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