Infoseek, Disney prepare to give Go the green light

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Go Network, the much-anticipated portal from Infoseek Corp. and Walt Disney Co., moves into public beta testing today. A teaser campaign tagged "Coming sooner than you think" breaks Dec. 26.

The portal, which officially launches the week of Jan. 11, combines the brands of Infoseek and Disney's online brands under the Buena Vista Internet Group, including ABCnews.com, ESPN.com, Mr. Showbiz, Disney.com and Disney's Blast Online.

While Barak Berkowitz, senior VP-general manager of Go Network and Infoseek, declined to reveal the amount of ad media spending, he said it includes co-promotions on Disney properties.

NATIONAL SPOTS COMING IN MARCH

The TV spots, created by CKS Silicon Valley, Cupertino, Calif., will run in 14 markets, including Chicago, New York and San Francisco. Commercials airing in January with the site's official launch feature a green light with a Go logo in the middle of it and the tagline "Are you ready to Go?" A national campaign tagged "Better way to Go" is expected in March.

"The campaign focuses around the ideas of Go that remove barriers," said Mr. Berkowitz.

Two San Francisco agencies will also support the network's launch. Ingalls Moranville will create a radio campaign and interactive agency Left Field is creating banner ads breaking this month. Both shops are agencies of record for Infoseek and will follow the brand strategy set by CKS.

In November, Disney took a 43% stake in Infoseek and warrants with the option to acquire a majority. In exchange, Infoseek received Disney's ownership position of technology company Starwave plus $70 million in cash and a note for $139 million to be paid over five years.

The idea was to create a portal with which to rival Yahoo!, America Online's AOL.com and other top Web sites. But critics wondered how Go would synchronize its diverse brands.

5 MAIN CONTENT AREAS

Go contains five content centers: a sports area led by ESPN.com, news with ABC.com, an entertainment area with Mr. Showbiz.com and ABC.com, a kid and family center led by Disney.com content and a money center, which doesn't yet have a flagship partner.

Content areas will be integrated with Infoseek directories, chat and online shopping and local services. Go will also have a global registration across all sites.

This "enables the personalization across the sites," said Mr. Berkowitz, adding it will make ad measurement and targeting easier. Go plans on selling ad packages across the network.

An Infoseek spokeswoman said its advertisers will be on the Go beta version for free. While she wouldn't disclose specific advertisers on the Go Network, she did say short-term inventory was sold out.

The Go home page can be personalized with features. For example, kid-safe feature Goguardian filters out pornographic search results, and can keep kids out of adult home pages and chat areas.

When Go launches, in keeping with this plan, Infoseek will cease accepting sexually explicit banner ads that it's accepted for the past year, said Mr. Berkowitz.

Beth Haggerty, VP-worldwide sales and marketing, has been promoted to senior VP-sales and strategic partnerships, overseeing sales across the Go Network.

Notably absent from the Go home page is mention of Disney or Infoseek, something Mr. Berkowitz said was intentional. "It's critical that the Go Network stands on its own," he said, explaining that the brands on their own don't have the breadth to attract a mass audience.

ALTERNATIVE CONTENT

He also stressed each content area will pull in alternative sources of news, entertainment, etc.

Chris Charron, analyst at Forrester Research, said the portal has several things in its favor, such as strong brand assets, the ability to promote itself offline and its strategy to establish a separate Go identity.

"They seem to be going out of their way not to make it too Disney-centric," he said. "They're right to steer away from the entertainment theme. It might alienate some content partners and consumers who are not looking for that kind of experience."

On the other hand, Mr. Charron said, like Microsoft Corp.'s MSN, Go will face the internal conflict of trying to promote its own media properties while trying to host competitive content partners. And while Go assures analysts it's going to bring in those alternative content sources, he added, the site has yet to provide evidence of those agreements.

Copyright December 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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