January 27, 2000 5:30 PM PST

Disney's Go.com narrowing focus

Disney's online directory, Go.com, is changing its Web strategy, narrowing its focus to play up its strength as an entertainment destination, the company said today.

In an interview, Go.com president Steve Wadsworth said the move was primarily aimed at improving branding and consumer awareness of the site, which has struggled to make inroads against portal leaders America Online and Yahoo. Currently, Go.com ranks sixth among the top portal sites, with 22 million monthly visitors, according to Internet data company Media Metrix.

"Clearly, one of the reasons that you haven't seen a lot of momentum is because in my mind we have not delivered a distinctive and clear message about what our consumer proposition is," Wadsworth said. "Our site looks a hell of a lot like every other portal. This strategy gives us the opportunity to create a very clear proposition."

Wadsworth would not offer details of how the site will change as a result of the new strategy. But he said the changes will be "an evolution, not a revolution."

"The transition will happen over the course of months," he said. "People will see that transformation. For instance, something that is important in delivery is personalization. If we can focus on specific categories, we can deliver that something."

Go.com: a chronology
A late entry to the crowded portal market, the site's traffic hasn't grown much in the year since its launch.
Jan 1998 Disney registers Go.com domain name.
June 1998 Disney takes 43% stake in Infoseek in exchange for Starwave and $70 million.
Sept 1998 Disney and Infoseek announce plans to launch a portal at the end of the year, disbanding the established Infoseek portal.
Jan 1999 Disney and Infoseek launch the Go Network.
Feb 1999 GoTo.com files a lawsuit alleging that the Go.com logo infringes on its trademark.
July 1999 Disney says it will acquire the rest of Infoseek it doesn't already own to create a new company called Go.com.
Aug 1999 Disney shutters its family-friendly Net guide.
Nov 1999 A federal court issues an injunction ordering Disney to stop using the Go Network logo, but an appeals court stays the ruling. The Go.com tracking stock debuts.
Dec 1999 Go.com says it lost more than $1 billion for fiscal 1999; inks broadband content deal with Sprint.
Jan 2000 Go.com says it will focus Web efforts on entertainment and leisure; takes equity stake in Pets.com.
He also denied that the company is being forced out of the portal business by competitors such as Yahoo and America Online, which recently cut a blockbuster deal with media giant Time Warner.

"This is the culmination of a lot of learning and strategic assessment over the last couple months," he said. "We are looking at our strengths as Go.com as well as the Walt Disney company."

The move was not altogether unexpected. Analysts had already begun predicting that second-tier portals such as Go, Lycos and Excite would be forced to develop a vertical niche approach and cede the all-in-one portal field to AOL and Yahoo.

"It's a really smart move," said Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li, who predicted a portal shakeout in a report earlier this month. "To some extent this is the result of pressure from shareholders for Go to get a strategy."

Li said the move was likely to involve prioritizing entertainment content on the site, rather than dumping existing features. Launched Jan. 12, 1999, Go.com, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Walt Disney Co., is the umbrella unit that operates Disney's Web operations, which include ABCNews.com, ESPN.com and Disney Online.

Li said that today's announcement could pressure other second-tier portal sites to follow suit. She said that Excite@Home could benefit by focusing on its broadband offerings, while Lycos could see advantages by positioning itself as an entertainment site.

Competitors, however, appeared unconcerned by today's announcement.

Excite@Home spokeswoman Melissa Walia See news analysis: Will Disney's Go Network pay off?said the company plans to stick to its current business plan. "Our content remains really important, and we will continue to evolve it in both narrowband and broadband," she said.

Kendra Romley, a spokeswoman for Go2Net.com, also said the company's plans would not change as a result of Disney's announcement.

"We position ourselves differently," she said. "We're not trying to be all things to all people."

Larry Marcus, a senior analyst for Deutsche Banc Alex Brown, said not to read too much into Go.com's change of direction. He said that although You've got Time Warner Go.com was "never going to be Yahoo," the company may still rally around the extensive entertainment content that Disney and the rest of the Go Network provides.

"They can be a primary source of some fantastic content," Marcus said. "I'm sure that they will have a network and a portal feel to how they approach their site."

Wadsworth agreed.

"We believe over time there will be room for several portal hubs, and we will be one of them," he said. "We felt that it made the most sense going after entertainment, leisure and recreation--things that are broad and touch everyone in the world."

 

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