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GO.com recasts portal strategy

No longer does the site want to be all things to all people. It will now focus on entertainment and recreation

Walt Disney plans to reposition its GO.com Web portal as an entertainment and leisure destination, in what seems an acknowledgment that the entertainment giant's Web venture is unable to challenge stalwarts like Yahoo! as a general-interest portal.

Disney launched GO Network in January 1999 with the intention of competing head-to-head with Web hubs like Yahoo!, America Online and others. It purchased Infoseek and built the new portal around the Infoseek search engine. All of Disney's Internet operations are now included in the GO.com tracking stock.

But many in the Web industry thought Disney was getting into the portal business too late. And indeed, while individual Disney Web sites such as ESPN.com have been leaders in their categories, the GO Network portal has been unable to make a move on more well-established rivals. According to Media Metrix figures, unique visitors to GO Network are about the same today as they were at launch, at just more than 21 million -- this despite a massive Disney promotion effort, worth tens of millions of dollars, that touts GO Network on Disney's ABC television network, ESPN and in Disney theme parks.

GO.com Chairman Steve Bornstein, the former ESPN chief who took over last year, said the operation is not backing away from its original aims. "I call it an evolution," Bornstein said. "It's evolving into maximizing the sweet spot of what I think the Walt Disney company is, which is an entertainment and leisure company."

Now Disney is recasting GO in a way that it hopes will reflect the strengths of Disney itself. The revamped portal will focus on four main areas: entertainment, recreation, leisure and lifestyles. Bornstein said Disney believes that, in the next few years, Web users will gravitate toward specialty portals that will be aimed at niche markets.

Bornstein said the new GO.com, with a focus on things like movies and music, will be a "fantastic aggregator" of the best Web content in those areas.

The strategic shift means that some categories featured on the GO Network portal will likely be curtailed, if not completely eliminated. Early candidates for elimination are topic areas like small business and careers, which don't naturally fit with the new leisure focus. The changes will likely happen over time, rather than in one dramatic relaunch.

At the same time, Disney will likely change the way GO's search function works. It will still produce search results for anything a user types in, but the company now wants the search function to produce much deeper results on the core subject areas, such as travel, movies and the like.

Separately, GO.com announced a partnership with Pets.com. The deal calls for Pets.com to buy advertising on GO.com Web sites. In exchange, Pets.com gets promotional support on ABC Inc. media properties such as the ABC network. GO.com will receive a "substantial equity stake" in Pets.com.

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