This is not just a point of semantics, said Stephen Howard-Sarin, VP-products at CNET Networks Business. “The entire look and feel has changed, with new colors and greater use of illustrations and other graphics,” he said. “All the content is original and new, except for the business library, which holds the content assets from the old Bnet.”
The original Bnet, which was launched in April 2005, was a database of almost 50,000 white papers, case studies and webcasts—“a central repository for the best available resources” for business executives, said a Bnet executive at that time.
“We did the hard work to find business information from thousands of sources, categorize it and make it searchable,” Howard-Sarin said, “but we realized that we weren’t creating a branded relationship with Bnet.” Now Bnet will distinguish itself with original content, primarily focused on how-to topics. “As a signature, we are developing big, multiarticle pieces covering broad management topics, such as hiring and firing, team-building, negotiating and personal career issues,” Howard-Sarin said. “We conducted a market study with Nielsen//NetRatings and found that there was a crying need for people to get better management information, and this was across all industries and job functions.”
Howard-Sarin said there are 49 million people in the U.S. “who are responsible for the work of other people. The bottom line is that we are developing a big business brand that serves the needs of millions of managers, not at a certain level of management and not at a certain type of company.”
Across all its brands, CNET Networks reached an average of 136 million unique monthly users during the fourth quarter of 2006, according to internal log data published in the quarterly financial release.
According to Howard-Sarin, Bnet’s goal is 5 million to 10 million unique monthly visitors within the next few years.
“We understand it will take time to grow to that level, but there is broad agreement within CNET Networks Business that this could be a very big property and there is a high level of commitment to building it,” he said.
Howard-Sarin declined to provide traffic numbers for Bnet but did say, “I can categorically say that it has been less than 1 million unique visitors per month.”
The reinvention of Bnet is part of CNET Networks’ corporate determination to expand beyond its core technology-oriented audience and advertiser base, which Steve Weinstein, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities, called “somewhat but not wildly successful.”
He added that it is difficult for new and acquired nontechnology sites—which include FilmSpot, TV.com, Webshots and Chow, as well as Bnet—to make much of an impact “because CNET’s technology-related business is so huge.”
Weinstein noted that CNET “is very good at packaging and selling online advertising, so the success of Bnet will depend on their ability to build traffic and a sizable user base.”
“The audience doesn’t have to be massive,” he said. “If they had a few million high-quality decision-makers, I think they could do a good job.”
Jeffrey Dearth, a partner at media investment bank DeSilva & Phillips, said, “There’s plenty of content [on the site] but, if anything, it seems to be aimed too broadly right now. I’m not sure what their niche is.”
Dearth added that Bnet is up against a lot of established competition, including the online properties of Forbes, Fortune, Inc., Business 2.0 and Fast Company. “It’s still early,” he said. “The jury’s still out. It will depend on how much traction they can get, how useful people find it and how well they can position themselves competitively.”