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CitySearch expands offering

The service announces four new Net partnerships in an effort to get ahead of the competition for local Internet ad revenues.

CitySearch, one of about a dozen companies fiercely competing for local ad revenue on the Net, today announced four new Net partnerships, in an effort to place itself ahead of the pack.

CitySearch has signed a partnership deal with BellSouth.net, the Internet services provider for BellSouth's nine state service areas.

CitySearch will become the primary means by which BellSouth delivers local content to its customers. In the future, the two companies also will also join forces to provide local content, according to Steve Larsen, CitySearch's vice president for business development.

CitySearch also signed deals with online directory Four11 to bring the directory to its pages; Digital Bindery to "push" special information packages through email delivery of local content; and Yack to create local chat sites.

But CitySearch is far from the only competitor in this space. Online content providers make daily--sometimes hourly--announcements about new partnerships and deals that they say will put their services ahead of the competition.

Just yesterday InfoSpace announced it has acquired a consortium of independent Yellow Page publisher databases, YPI.Net. The company bundles Internet ads with printed yellow pages. The acquisition, according to InfoSpace, "is a stepping stone to create a nationwide local sales channel that will bring Yellow Pages advertising on the Internet."

"The yellow pages is a $13 billion industry," said InfoSpace marketing director Punam Agrawal. "Everybody wants to get those local ads."

Most companies are not just going after ads from the yellow pages but also from newspapers as well.

But Bill Bass, an analyst with Forrester Research, says Netizens chasing after that pot of gold may only find a few coins at the end of the rainbow. And then they'll have to fight each other for them.

"Everybody and their brother thinks that they can tap into local ad dollars," Bass said. "You have this major shift coming in how people get their media, or at least how they get their information. Everybody wants to stake out a space in hopes of becoming the next dominant player."

There are the traditional players--yellow pages and newspapers-- competing with the newer players such as CitySearch and the huge Net companies such as Microsoft going after the market with their resources.

Ad dollars collected in the paper world don't necessarily translate to ad dollars online, Bass says. "The reason [people] like advertising in yellow pages is because they work. That's the biggest no brainer around," he said.

"Online--that's a much harder proposition because most people don't go online to check out what they can find in their yellow pages, and those that do find 10, 15 different offerings, all of which are pretty weak," he added.

For instance, Bass says that about 20 of a yellow pages' traditional revenue comes from doctors and lawyers who place ads. But on the Net, doctors and lawyers are much more likely to abandon online ads altogether, opting for sites that focus on their professions.

To make it in the online content arena, business should specialize on specific topics and areas, Bass said.

Meanwhile, companies like InfoSpace and CitySearch are continuing their turf battles, trying to find whatever edge they can, be it through partnerships or cobranding a site.