Three Minutes With George Bell

SAN FRANCISCO (03/13/2000) - In January, George Bell, 43, became president and chief executive officer of Excite@Home Inc., a high-speed Internet access provider. Today Excite@Home faces enormous potential as broadband demand grows.

However, it also must deal with broadband's sleeping giant, America Online Inc., which is merging with Time Warner Inc.--the owner of high-speed Net access provider Road Runner.

PC World.com News caught up with Bell at a speech to the Massachusetts Software and Internet Council.

PCW: How do you see AOL and now Time Warner as a rival? Are you afraid that it will become a monopoly?

BELL: When it comes to content, no. Content, because it inspires the highest form of loyalty among consumers, won't simply live by rules set by corporate parents. I don't think that AOL is going to tell CNN that it can only be seen through AOL. CNN wouldn't stand for that.

We will differentiate ourselves by offering highly personalized content from the broadest number of sources. If you want news, we're not going to say you can only get Fox News. We are going to offer CNN and other forms of video news.

If you go to AOL.com and Excite.com and look at the content and personalization offered by both, I don't think you have to be using the Web very long to see the difference.

PCW: You mentioned in your speech that Excite@Home will be launching a broadband portal sometime in March. What can you tell me about it?

BELL: We will be relying a lot more on (JavaScript) "mouse-overs" for content change. So, as you're scrolling down for news headlines, as you mouse over each headline the lead picture will change to conform to that story. Up will come up a synopsis of the story, and then a link to go deeper.

That means you can scroll down six different stories and basically get pictorial and narrative thumbnails without ever leaving the page. . . . Ideally we want to be able to give you every page you want without having to click.

PCW: That strategy doesn't sound like a good way to sell banner ads.

BELL: In an always-on environment, the measure of success isn't going to be page views, it's going to be how much time I get you to spend on my online service verses someone else's.

PCW: Is this new portal something every Net surfer will be able to access?

BELL: No. Several weeks later, we will launch a toned-down public version of Excite broadband. The reason is, we want to be able to preserve the value proposition for the people who are paying $40 a month. They should be able to get the best content.

PCW: What are your thoughts on open access? Do you support open access?

BELL: Yes. We have never said anything different. But we've also felt that the cable operators should be given a period of time to recoup the $17 billion spent upgrading old one-way systems into two-way systems.

It ought to be an open environment, but in the short term the people who are putting in the vast majority of the investment ought to be given a chance to recoup that investment.

PCW: In terms of your broadband strategy, Excite@Home announced a free ISP for narrow band surfers. How is that useful in realizing your broadband strategy?

BELL: The number one thing for us to recognize is the majority of people still connect to the Web through narrow band. That's going to hold true for the next three or four years. We want to get the biggest reservoir of users in narrow band. Whether we get them through a free ISP, through the Excite.com portal, Blue Mountain, Web Crawler, or other properties doesn't matter. The bigger that reservoir is, the more characteristics we know about those users, and the better we will be at marketing them up to broadband service.

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