NBC Internet scraps Snap, Xoom for NBCi

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Looking to put more snap into its languishing business, NBC Internet is revamping its Internet strategy effective today under a new brand -- NBCi.com.

NBCi.com will be the single brand for a new portal with a new focus on personalization, even though its parent will retain the NBC Internet badge. Gone will be other less-established brands: Snap.com, NBC's old portal; Xoom.com, its Web community site; and NBC Interactive Neighborhood, its local-market NBC initiative.

`NEED TO INTEGRATE'

"There definitely was a need to integrate the brands," said Paul Noglows, managing director-media research group for Chase Manhattan Corp.'s Chase H&Q, which was an underwriter of NBC Internet's September 1999 initial public stock offering. "It severely limited their potential to build audience. It was too confusing. If you were registered on Xoom you weren't necessarily registered on Snap."

The NBCi name will be promoted with $15 million in TV advertising time from NBC -- 39.3% owner of NBC Internet, which operates NBCi.com -- during its broadcast of the Summer Olympics this week. For the entire fourth quarter, NBCi will use approximately $55 million the $327 million in TV advertising credits NBC gave NBCi last year as part of its equity deal.

The in-house ad agency for many NBC properties, NBC Agency, handles creative. The campaign has the theme, "Your agent on the Web. What you want, when you want it." It will run across multiple dayparts, including prime-time and late-night programming, sports, and selected NBC movies and special events. Some advertising will run on other media, but the vast majority will be on NBC.

"NBC has the bigger name -- but it's not clear that an existing TV brand translates well to the Internet," said David Card, analyst for Jupiter Communications. "ESPN.com is probably an exception to this rule" in that they appear to be a success in traffic and ad sales, he said. ESPN.com is part of Walt Disney Co.'s Disney Internet Group.

As part of its advertising effort, NBCi is launching Personal Agent on the Web, a service that pulls in personalized Internet content that users can download from the Web while desktop applications are running.

NBCi also is broadening its base of customized portals. It already creates co-branded sites for other partners, such as Verizon Communications. Now NBCi is working with retailers and other companies who are starting free ISPs. Montgomery Ward & Co. is the first alliance in this vein; the struggling retailer is controlled by NBC parent General Electric Co.

NBCi said other partnerships will be announced soon.

NBCi is also adding new technology that will identify a user's Internet access speed and adjust content accordingly. Slower-speed Web users, for instance, will not get the richer audio and video content that would slow downloads and navigation.

NBC Internet has been struggling since last September when the company went public. Its properties barely made gains in monthly unique visitors vs. the sustained growth of the entire Internet marketplace. Its stock also has suffered, peaking at $106 a share in February and sinking to an all-time low of $6.25 at press time.

"The game has changed here," said Edmond Sanctis, president-chief operating officer of NBC Internet. "The race for the last few years has been who can get as big as possible: How do you get as much reach, page views, revenue as you can get without thinking about the high-value reach" and customers. Better interaction with consumers is NBCi's top priority now, Mr. Sanctis said.

Some doubt a TV brand can make it as an Internet brand. Walt Disney Co.'s Go Network for instance, also had trouble gaining traffic as a portal site.

NBC's properties also have been languishing, with its July tally of 15.4 million unique visitors at about the same level since last fall, according to Media Metrix.

For the likes of NBCi, as well as for what is now called Go.com, which has announced a restructuring of its Internet activities, analysts said the companies can ill-afford to be portal also-rans.

"It is an issue," said Mr. Noglows, the analyst. "You got a couple of major portals" -- notably, America Online, Yahoo! and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN -- taking the lion's share of the traffic. So then what is the strategy -- not to be just an also-ran. Some of the advantages they do have is the ability to promote the site and tie in with content that just doesn't come from online."

For its part, NBCi said it wants to compete with other portals such as AOL and Yahoo!.

"Yeah, we want to be a big 10 player," Mr. Sanctis said. "But more importantly, I want to create business. I want to interact with the consumer and create value."

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