Netscape renews deals with 4 search sites

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Netscape Communications Corp., as expected, on Tuesday announced new ad contracts with four major search engines. Excite, Infoseek Corp., Lycos and Yahoo! renewed pacts to be "Premier Providers" for the year beginning May 1. That gives each of them a button in the search section of Netscape's popular site.

Separately, Netscape and search powerhouse Yahoo! will stage a conference call for media on Wednesday. Yahoo! earlier this week denied rumors that it will take over Destinations, a popular section of Netscape's site with links to other sites. Asked about a deal with Yahoo, Jennifer Bailey, VP-electronic marketing, said: "We can't confirm that."

In the new ad deals, each of the search services will pay on a cost-per-thousand-impressions basis, a change from last year's $5 million flat fee. Netscape has agreed to deliver a minimum number of impressions; the total price won't go above an undisclosed ceiling. From a CPM standpoint, pricing in the new contracts is similar to last year's, Ms. Bailey said.

The search engines are the largest advertisers on the Web's biggest advertising site. The site draws more than 4 million visitors a day, according to Netscape.

In addition to the four "Premier" search engines, Netscape will let users create a button for a fifth engine from a list of "Marquee Providers," smaller search site advertisers. Netscape expects to sell four to five Marquee advertisers; the first announced deal is with WebCrawler.

In a new twist, users will be able to select any Premier or Marquee button as their default search site. Ms. Bailey said the change is designed to make Netscape's site more appealing to users.

"We believe that's a really great feature for users," Ms. Bailey said. "We believe that will help main and grow our traffic over time."

The approach also could give search sites with the strongest brand image or features a clear advantage in becoming the default site and generating traffic. Till now, Netscape rotated search inquiries among Premier advertisers.

Still, Ms. Bailey said the majority of Web users probably won't set a default; search engines will continue to be rotated for them.

The sites' year contracts with Netscape were set to end in April, but Netscape is giving them free ads during the month until the new contracts kick in.

Ms. Bailey said the launch of a revamped Netscape Search site on May 1 isn't tied to the arrival of Communicator, the Netscape browser and Web software suite officially set for second quarter introduction. But the new search page and the search engines' sites will be optimized to take advantage of features in the new software.

Copyright March 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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