Trouble comes home to roost for Excite

Will it sing with the choir eternal?

Will it sing with the choir eternal?

The future for Excite@home looks less than exciting. The ISP and portal saw its shares plunge 46 per cent on Tuesday after it expressed "substantial doubt" that it would survive the year. Credit ratings agency Standard and Poors slashed its $1bn debt to a triple-C after the announcement, leaving the former online giant hovering just above the junk rating. In June, it more or less pulled the plug on its European operations. Excite@Home was formed by the merger of broadband cable ISP @home and internet portal Excite in January 1999. It's not been a happy marriage, but while the ISP division has been losing cash, it's the portal business that's proved to be the real money pit. In a recent study of the surfing habits of 8,500 UK web surfers by net monitoring company Net Value, 47.7 per cent visited MSN.com. 40.1 per cent visited yahoo.com, while another 31.2 per cent visited msn.co.uk. Excite failed to make the top ten. Significantly, Net Value identified a second-level of portals sitting below the top traffic pullers. It included Excite, AltaVista - which seems to have given up the portal ghost, and Netscape - which appears to have given up everything. A new breed of internet have-nots. The portal model is workable but at the moment there's an extremely crowded marketplace out there with a lot of big players fighting over a diminishing pot of gold. MSN clearly has an advantage over its competitors as it comes bundled on Windows machines as the default home page, while Yahoo! and AOL are two of the most recognisable web brands in the world. With web advertising revenues plunging, the portals are suddenly competing for less and less money. Something's got to give. This doesn't mark the beginning of the end for the portal. But it is likely to mark the beginning of a long and painful of process of consolidation within the sector. And it's the second-tier players, like Netscape, AltaVista and Excite that are likely to face the chop in what is likely to be a bloody reshuffle in the portal pecking order. The portal industry isn't dead, it's just in need of a makeover.