City Guide Puts Nightlife at Your Fingertips

SAN FRANCISCO (05/16/2000) - Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch Inc. is putting things into your hands. And it's not alone. Starting Friday, a service called Local Intelligence will give users mobile access to TMCS' content and ticketing capabilities. The company already distributes CitySearch reviews and profiles to handheld devices, but Local Intelligence adds a transaction function to the mix.

Although "wireless" is the buzzword du jour for Web companies from portals to pet-store suppliers, city guides might be the most logical application for mobile platforms. Established players like AOL's Digital City as well as startups like Vindigo are racing to figure out the best way to provide timely, location-specific entertainment, dining and event listings to cell phones, personal digital assistants and pagers.

Paul LaFontaine, VP of TMCS Mobile, says Local Intelligence's filtering and ticketing capabilities give it an edge over its rivals. "This is not a research tool," he says. "It's a transaction tool that works with our existing Web offerings."

Rather than seeing a list all of the plays being performed downtown on a given night, for example, theatergoers would be given the 10 best options based on TMCS editors' recommendations. Furthermore, Local Intelligence would list only those plays that had tickets available. It also would allow visitors to purchase tickets remotely, provided they set up a transaction account at the Web site. The company also plans to add the ability to make real-time reservations for food, lodging and golf tee times. TMCS is an investor in Foodline.com, an online restaurant reservations service that could be integrated with Local Intelligence.

"The space is heating up," says Paul DeBenedictis, president of Digital City, the local-portal offering from America Online, which announced its wireless initiative last month. "It fits into our 'AOL Anywhere' strategy."

What's unique about Digital City Wireless, says Rick Robinson, Digital City's executive director of new products, is the way it integrates members' opinions.

"We provide expert descriptions, enhanced by member commentary and member ratings" that change from day to day, Robinson says. But wireless Internet access, on which both Local Intelligence and Digital City Wireless rely, is still in its infancy.

According to telecom and Internet analyst firm Ovum, only 6 million people worldwide access the Web from mobile devices.

"Everyone focuses on wireless devices, but there aren't any," says Jason Devitt, CEO of New York-based Vindigo. "There are only a hundred thousand Palm VIIs, and only five models of WAP [wireless application protocol] phones available in Europe, let alone in the U.S." A customer can download updates from Vindigo's comprehensive database of local dining and entertainment information to a PDA each time he or she synchronizes it with a PC.

TMCS has yet to figure out how it will generate revenue from its mobile offering. LaFontaine says that including advertisements with the service would compromise the integrity of the editorial content. One way to increase revenue might be to partner with cellular carriers in order to package premium services for subscribers. LaFontaine says the company also could sell "yield management" services to restaurants that want to publish additional real-time information, like wait times.

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