Go.com Brakes for a Tune-Up

SAN FRANCISCO (01/28/2000) - Seemingly destined to play second fiddle in the general-interest portal race, Go.com is recasting itself as a destination for a broad but potentially lucrative niche: recreation, leisure and entertainment.

The portal was launched by Disney in January 1999 and positioned to take on entrenched Internet powerhouses Yahoo, America Online (AOL) and the Microsoft Network (MSN). Go.com links to some of the most popular sites on the Web, including Disney properties ABC.com, Disney.com and ESPN.com. In November, Disney spun off its Internet businesses, including Go.com, and merged them with Infoseek. The new company trades under the stock ticker symbol "GO" on the New York Stock Exchange, and closed Friday up 1 at 29.69.

In a year, Go.com became the second-most-popular search engine and the seventh-most-visited site on the Web, according to Media Metrix. But as a Web property, total traffic to all Go Network sites still languished behind ExciteAtHome, Lycos, MSN, Yahoo and AOL, even though it had Disney's content and brand behind it.

The solution, according to Go.com President Steve Wadsworth, is to differentiate and focus on what the site can do best.

"We believe that in time all portals will become known as good at one thing," Wadsworth says. "Being all things to all people is a little tough."

Wadsworth says that before the Infoseek merger, a companywide soul-searching effort was under way to distinguish the company from its competitors and identify areas Go.com could "own and win outright."

"Part of these strengths is the Disney company," he says. "The Disney company is known as an entertainment and leisure company. It is one of the biggest travel destinations in the world."

Most people use more than one search engine. By focusing on entertainment and leisure, Go.com hopes not necessarily to become everyone's starting point on the Web, but the site they go to as an indispensable resource for its niche areas.

"In terms of positioning, it's broad and touches everybody in the world," Wadsworth says. "We believe it enhances our value proposition and allows us to engage users more deeply."

But by getting out of the general-interest portal race, Go.com throws its lot into the crowded entertainment space where a slew of companies like Digital Entertainment Network, AtomFilms and Macromedia divvy up a relatively small stream of revenue. Delivering entertainment on the Web may have a bright future, but in the short term the industry struggles against limited bandwidth and home computers more suited to work functions rather than the delivery of compelling entertainment.

"The Web is not going to be an entertainment medium for a long time, if ever," says IDC analyst Barry Parr. "It is a news and information and shopping medium."

With ABC, ESPN and Disney, Go.com distinguished itself as the most media-focused of the portals. But while it concentrated on the entertainment experience, AltaVista, Lycos, MSN, Yahoo and AOL have made themselves profitable intermediaries in online shopping.

"Disney seems to be thinking like a media company here," Parr says. "There is an opportunity in media and advertising but a smaller opportunity than shopping. It seems like they are walking in the wrong direction."

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