AltaVista Tunes In

SAN FRANCISCO (08/02/2000) - AltaVista Co. has taken the wraps off an extensive entertainment search center in hopes of drawing what has proven to be an enormous audience for online music and video.

The new entertainment center is part of a general redesign that gives the portal a streamlined interface for its search, directory and content offerings.

While retaining its core function as a tool to search the Web, AltaVista has been restructuring its offerings in recent months to better position itself to compete with more popular portals such as Yahoo Inc., Lycos Inc. and Excite@Home Inc.

This time around, the company has made music a priority. Its entertainment category, which features separate sections for music, radio, movies, TV and celebrities, joins just two other tailored "super searches" on the site - shopping and news.

"People who are downloading [music] are probably the biggest community online," AltaVista VP and Executive Producer Ross Levinson said in an earlier interview about the company's music strategy. "We want to tap into that."

Along with editorial features from partner iCAST (which, like AltaVista, is owned by investment firm CMGI Inc.), the music section will include a download directory licensed from Listen.com, links to AltaVista's music directory, and rankings of music searches, as well as other charts and concert listings.

"The goal of the content is to get people to top-line information immediately," says Andre Herring, AltaVista's senior manager for entertainment.

All of AltaVista's entertainment content will now be packaged around a search box that lets consumers limit their searches, for example, to just audio or images. An entertainment-specific index on the back end is designed to return more relevant results, so a search for Oasis will lead to sites about the British band rather than the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards.

But the technology isn't foolproof. A search for "Cars" first returns images not of the rock band led by Rick Ocasek, but of automobiles. However, one band did appear at No. 17 in the search results - Christian rock group Scarlet Rose, pictured playing their instruments on top of a van.

AltaVista isn't the only consumer portal trying to take advantage of the growing demand for digital downloads and other music content. Yahoo, for example, recently launched its own media player software that allows users to listen to MP3s and CDs on a PC, offers access to radio streams from its Broadcast.com division and points listeners to other Yahoo content through an integrated browser. But perhaps most important, Yahoo's player, which consumers can download to their desktop, allows the company to brand listeners' music experience even when they are not surfing Yahoo.

"We're big believers in having Yahoo's brand in front of people whether they're on the Web site or not," says Matt Rightmire, Yahoo's VP and general manager of entertainment. "We want to be the interface."

What remains to be seen now is how the portals will make money from their various music services.

"The business model could not be more unclear," Rightmire says. "Nobody has figured out how to deliver what users want that they can't already access for free."

AltaVista, for its part, seems content to stick with its tried-and-true revenue streams.

"We just want to present [content] to as wide an audience as possible," Levinson says. "The more people use our service, the more money we can make through advertising."

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