NewcityNet links non-mainstream newspapers

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NewcityNet, a network of 40 alternative newspaper and five content sites, is hoping to succeed at a plan attempted by New Century Networks, a consortium of nine major newspaper chains that closed its doors in March.

So far, online sites of Chicago Newcity, the Detroit Metro Times, Philadelphia City Paper and the San Francisco Bay Guardian are a few that have joined the network. Content sites include arts and entertainment site Weekly Wire, movie site Film Vault and Red Meat, a site based on an alternative comic series.

DISCUSSIONS WITH HOTBOT

Future content will include classifieds and searching capabilities. NewcityNet is in discussions with Wired Digital's Hotbot for search services. (Lycos now owns Wired Digital.)

"A big part of what we're trying to do is solve some of the local issues," said Brian Hieggelke, president of NewcityNet, referring to the advantages of joint development and ad sales. NewcityNet sells ads for $35 per thousand impressions across the network, and slightly more for ads targeted by region or other criteria. Advertisers include U S West, BellSouth Corp. and Ameritech Corp. for regional campaigns. Netscape Communications Corp. and online game show site Uproar are national advertisers.

The target demographic for the network is 18-to-34-year-olds, Mr. Hieggelke said. He also pointed out the difference between NewcityNet and New Century Network is that, except for film reviews, alternative papers don't have a lot of overlapping content and are more likely to complement each other than national dailies.

$1 MIL IN MEDIA PLANNED

To promote the portal, which will officially launch in early 1999, NewcityNet is breaking a print and online campaign created by McConnaughy Stein Schmidt Brown, Chicago. Newspaper sites have committed media worth $1 million, Mr. Hieggelke said.

"The first phase will be an awareness campaign that will try to drive home the general attitude of the network," he said, adding that a second phase will feature the site's content.

Alex Kuethe, new-media business manager at the San Francisco Bay Guardian, said joining the network helps it reach 1 million or more users, which many advertisers demand. Its site currently has 700,000 users, he said. Having Chicago-based NewcityNet handle ad-reporting and serving, which is done with Real Media's Open Ad System banner software, is another plus.

Mr. Kuethe said he also likes the one-year contract. "There's an easy escape clause. To get into any long-term relationships with people on the Net right now is very dangerous," he said, explaining that new technologies, ideas and alliances can transform Web businesses overnight.

Randy Bennett, VP-electronic media at the Newspaper Association of America, said NewcityNet's is "probably a pretty smart strategy."

"I think it makes sense in this environment where a lot of national players are emerging," he said.

However, he said its chances of success are unclear because the weekly alternatives, even united, face "competitors with very deep pockets."

Copyright November 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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