Go.com previews Movies.com entertainment site

Disney's Web portal has quietly launched Movies.com in a step toward transforming itself from a general-interest portal to an entertainment destination, CNET News.com has learned.

Disney's Go.com has quietly launched a new Web site called Movies.com in one of its first steps toward transforming itself from a general-interest portal to an entertainment destination, CNET News.com has learned.

The site, which has been in preview mode since mid-March, is expected to officially launch in mid-May, according to Erik Flannigan, who runs entertainment programming for Go.com.

The site will feature movie trailers that visitors can download, movie reviews and celebrity gossip. The site is an offshoot of Mr. Showbiz, Go.com's primary entertainment site.

Movies.com in its current form contains links to movies produced under Hollywood Pictures and Touchstone Pictures, two studios owned by Disney. But Flannigan noted that the site will not exclusively feature Disney content.

"It will be much broader than that," he said.

The site represents an expected strategic shift in Go.com's Internet focus. The company has been moving away from its original objective of creating a Web portal to take on industry leaders Yahoo and America Online, instead emphasizing its entertainment roots.

"We felt that it made the most sense going after entertainment, leisure and recreation--things that are broad and touch everyone in the world," Go.com president Steve Wadsworth said in a January interview.

Go.com's decision to change gears underscores the difficulties the site has faced since it launched in January 1999. The original idea was to create a Web portal that would link Disney's well-known online properties, such as ESPN.com, ABCNews.com and Disney Online, under the Go.com umbrella.

But the company has suffered numerous setbacks: It lost a high-profile copyright lawsuit to GoTo.com, forcing it to change its logo. It also has seen an exodus of top executives, such as former chief Jake Winebaum.

Meanwhile, the market see related story: Web portals buy to survivefor Web portals has stratified. The lion's share of advertising dollars and eyeballs has gone to the top players, leaving behind second-tier portals such as Go.com, Lycos, Excite@Home and NBCi's Snap.

Disney in turn has been mulling different ways to make its Internet investment pay. Recently, Disney chief executive Michael Eisner told a conference that the company was looking at ways to charge for its content at "a reasonable cost," Bloomberg News reported.

Go.com spokeswoman Shelly Greenhalgh said Movies.com will remain free.

The tightening of the market has caused Go.com to trim its scope and refocus on its foundation, according to Patrick Keane, an analyst at Jupiter Communications. The site's acceptance of its existing strengths in entertainment and sports may make sense in the long term, he added.

"In looking at the portal landscape, their eyes were a lot bigger than their stomachs," Keane said. "They wisely realized they can't play in that dogfight, and they should instead play that dogfight in verticals."

News.com's Corey Grice and Bloomberg News contributed to this report.

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