America Online, making a play in the business market, is recasting Netscape Netcenter as a business professional's portal and moving to integrate Time Warner content into the site.
The restaging comes a year after AOL bought Netscape Communications Corp. and months before AOL completes its takeover of Time Warner.
To promote Netcenter and a new version of Netscape's browser due next month, Netscape has earmarked "real money" for a campaign that will include TV, print and online ads, said John Heins, VP-sales and international operations at Netscape.
GOTHAM LIKELY WILL HANDLE
Gotham, New York, the agency that handles some of AOL's offline advertising, likely will handle the Netscape campaign, which will coincide with Netscape's relaunch, said James Martin, senior VP-general manager of Netscape Netcenter.
Netscape's ad budget was undisclosed. Netscape spent $7.2 million on offline brand ads for the first 11 months last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting.
In addition, new features such as AOL Instant Messenger and e-mail services will be integrated into the new Netcenter.
"We will allow the Netcenter portal to take full advantage of the next-generation browser Netscape," Mr. Martin said.
Even before it absorbs Time Warner, elements of the company are already appearing at Netscape. The new Netcenter default pages for categories such as news, sports and money, for example, will be CNN, Sports Illustrated and Money, noted a March 1 PaineWebber analysis. Mr. Martin neither confirmed nor denied that such arrangements had been made.
'THINGS THAT MAKE SENSE'
But addressing a standing-room-only crowd at a PaineWebber Internet conference in New York last week, AOL President-Chief Operating Officer Bob Pittman said AOL plans to use Netcenter as the "template" for Time Warner online properties such as CNN.com, Fortune.com, Money.com and others.
"Clearly, these are the types of things that make sense," Mr. Heins said, adding that Time Inc.'s Fortune is launching a new magazine, eCompany Now, in June. "It would make sense to have a publication like that available on Netcenter."
In mid-February, AOL announced Time Warner-owned CNN.com would be Netcenter's premier broadcast news partner. The previous provider, Walt Disney Co.'s ABC, was replaced after ABC's contract with Netscape ended in December, Mr. Martin said. CNN and Netscape are exploring integrating other CNN brands into Netscape.
Integrating such information into the portal makes sense for Netscape, which decided last fall to turn Netcenter into a business professional's portal, Mr. Martin said. Specifically, AOL wants to make Netcenter the portal of choice for people at work, said Mr. Heins.
'GROWTH AND OPPORTUNITY'
"Clearly this is an area of growth and opportunity: how to help people buy things efficiently at work," Mr. Heins said.
Netscape owned one of the most-trafficked home pages from the early days of the Internet because its page was the default for Netscape Navigator, and it fashioned that asset into the Netcenter portal. But Netscape, already struggling to clarify its identity when AOL acquired it, hired Mr. Heins last month to generate revenue through advertising and
e-commerce deals. Mr. Heins, formerly president-CEO of Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing, reports to Mr. Martin, also a former print publishing executive. Another newcomer is Susan Mernit, former director of Parade Publications' new-media division, ParadeNet, who joined in December as VP-programming.
Mr. Heins foresees "the potential for great interaction with Time Warner brands. There are lots of potential synergies there. My being [hired] shows there's a real commitment behind this," he said, adding he expects Netscape to make additional hires to support the relaunch.
TIME WARNER INTEGRATION
While he said there was no "major drive" under way to make Time Warner publications the exclusive content providers on Netcenter, Mr. Martin did say that "it's clear that when we are one family after the merger, we will be able to take full advantage of all the assets that exist within Time Warner and the AOL family of brands."
Despite Mr. Pittman's claims that Netcenter is currently the No. 2 portal behind Yahoo! with 25 million registered users worldwide, Netcenter still has a long way to go in attracting unique visitors, according to Media Metrix data for traffic from home and work PCs: Netcenter had only 347,000 unique visitors in January, compared with Yahoo!, which had 37 million; AOL.com, 26.2 million; Go.com, 15.6 million; Lycos, 13.8 million; and AltaVista, 9.9 million.
Copyright March 2000, Crain Communications Inc.