On the air for only three months, The Oracle E-Business Network already has plans to look a lot more like ABC and CNN. And it has tapped Steve Jobs, Scott McNealy and George Castanza's mother to help it get there.
The E-Business Network is the first broadcast network created by a technology company specifically for marketing purposes. It features original audio and video content, as well as syndicated news from Reuters, ON24 Financial I-Network and Garage.com.
The network is being closely watched as a potential model for other large companies seeking to build relationships with customers that stretch beyond sales. If successful, the self-broadcasting model could be a competitor to trade publishers.
The Web-based network, financed to the tune of $20 million, will begin sending by August a 24/7 signal of audio and video content tailored to its customers' needs, said Mark Jarvis, Oracle senior VP-worldwide marketing.
Instead of depending on visitors to click on one of its program links, Oracle will offer as an alternative scheduled programming from its business, technology, eLearning, webstyle and news channels. The programming is designed to make Oracle the first stop on each of its customers' Web sessions.
What's in Oracle's new summer lineup?
Estelle Harris, the actress who played George Castanza's mother on "Seinfeld," will host a show that revolves around the lighter side of b-to-b.
Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple Computer Inc., and Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems Inc., will appear in a series about customer relationship management.
And a program called "dot.com documentary" will take a weekly look at the development of Internet start-up Switchouse.com, a consumer trading hub, from funding to execution.
"Our start has been more successful than expected," Jarvis said. "We're reaching more executives and decisionmakers than we expected. We thought our audience would be primarily technical, but only 20% to 30% [of viewers] fall into that category. This has gone way beyond our aims."
Traffic to date is about four times that projected for the first quarter of operation, said Jarvis, who has positioned himself as the top programmer for E-Business Network.
With scant marketing support-a radio campaign in six markets and aggressive public relations-Oracle has registered 670,000 unique users from 127 countries, he said.
Top viewer categories are consultants (29%), technicians (22%), high-level executives (15%) and media (4%), he said. The U.S. accounts for 65% of the traffic. The U.K. is the second-largest market, and Germany is the third-largest market.
Though Oracle claims the network is a boon for its marketing efforts, skeptics abound. Dana Serman, research analyst for Lazard Freres & Co., said it is unrealistic for Oracle to expect solid returns from its programming blitz.
"This is one of 7 million distinct Web sites," Serman said. "Oracle's audience is ultimately tens of thousands of information technology viewers, not tens of millions of information technology viewers. They are going to have a hard time competing with entertainment-centric services. Last I checked, Yahoo! was in this business, too."
In going with a network approach, Oracle walks the fine line between useful and intrusive, said Dan O'Brien, an analyst with Forrester Research. The best results from Web marketing to date have come from sharply focused sites that deliver information and applications for specific tasks, he said.
"Oracle is doing something not unlike what The Wall Street Journal has done with the launch of their weekend Journal, which is trying to hold on to customers longer," O'Brien said. "They need to test it carefully. There's an argument to be made that a focused site is more valuable to someone whose time is limited, rather than something that tries to be all things to all people."
Oracle will use interactive elements to make sure it doesn't get off track, Jarvis countered. This quarter, it will launch an array of viewer polls, which Jarvis described as "Internet Nielsens." Also this quarter, each program will have an area that allows people to send in comments.
"Already, we have a panel of everyday viewers telling us what is right and wrong with the programs," Jarvis said. "We're pretty focused on the stickiness factor. We're not there to sell viewers something. We simply want to educate them to the point that they are likely to think of us when they do make a decision."
Oracle plans to escalate marketing efforts behind the network. Its radio campaign in the six largest U.S. technology markets failed to deliver spikes in traffic-one of the few disappointments thus far, Jarvis said.
Additional radio, print, e-mail and direct campaigns will be initiated, as the E-Business Network shoots for 1.2 million registered users by the close of 2000, he said. The staff assigned to the network has expanded from four to 15 people.
The E-Business Network is a key component of a broader Oracle marketing challenge, said Larry Gordon, research director for b-to-b services at Jupiter Communications Inc. Two years ago, Oracle was perceived almost exclusively as a database company, he said. That's a dangerous position to be in when corporate customers are looking to buy e-commerce infrastructure solutions, he said.
"The E-Business Network is a lot like 3Com buying the name to Candlestick Park," Gordon said. "Oracle's big problem was no one thought of them as a business company. If you are perceived as creating only the underpinnings of e-business, the fear is that some punk [consultant] will come along and design you out of the solution. Oracle is positioning itself as the best source for business advice, a place to get really smart about business strategy and the go-to source for e-business solutions."