Hoping to create a new gateway to the Internet for Europeans, British Telecommunications PLC and US directory company LookSmart announced a joint venture yesterday that will sprinkle localised portals throughout Europe and Asia.
The venture will open portals in Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore at the beginning of next year, said Vernon Irvin, senior VP of marketing and Internet for BT Worldwide.
"These will be deep, rich, country- and language-specific directories with local language, locally relevant, and built by people in the markets -- not some thin veneer of a US product."
That's an unsubtle reference to a marketplace already crowded with US portal companies Lycos and Yahoo, which are bringing local versions to parts of Europe and Asia.
Irvin maintains that his best asset is the subscriber base of 31 million Internet and wireless access customers BT already has on hand. The joint venture will develop wireless and broadband services, and Irvin says BT will move its narrowband customers over to cable, digital subscriber line and other broadband technologies as they become deployed in each country.
Moreover, the companies have put as much as $US200 million into the joint venture, which will generate revenue from advertising, licensing the LookSmart directory, and helping businesses set up Web shops and make sales through the portals, said Evan Thornley, LookSmart's cofounder and CEO.
Certainly, the European and Asian markets are huge. More than 51 million people access the Internet in Western Europe and Asia already, a figure that should grow to more than 215 million by 2003, according to International Data Corp.
Other portal companies have already made forays into the target markets of BT LookSmart. Yahoo has nine portals in Asia and eight in Europe, while Lycos has two in Asia and 11 in Europe, including a partnership with Bertelsmann in Germany.
But Thornley says the competition doesn't worry him. "What we don't see is any offering that has the benefits of both truly high-quality locally tailored content, and access to a global network of content," he said.
LookSmart has already launched sites aimed at the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands, and has built localised directories for Japan, Korea, France, Singapore, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Spain, Italy, Malaysia and Mexico.
In addition, the company provides its directory to about 280 ISPs, including the Microsoft Network, ExciteAtHome, AltaVista, NetZero and AT&T Global Network Services. A partnership with Cox Interactive Media allows LookSmart to offer content via cable access in 70 US markets.