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Commentary: Fuzzy goals led to NBCi's demise

Just what NBC intended to do with NBCi was never clear; for that matter, it was never entirely clear what NBCi was, says Gartner.

By Whit Andrews, Gartner Analyst

Just what NBC intended to do with NBCi was never clear. For that matter, it was never entirely clear what NBCi was.

Despite investment from the "Must-See TV" network, and the estimable but late-to-market Snap guide to Web sites, NBCi's role in the larger NBC family of Web and television properties was always murky. NBCi never developed its own personality, which is a necessary asset for a major Web information and service hub.

NBCi's missteps included the abandonment of the heavily promoted Snap brand, the inability to incorporate interactive flagships MSNBC or CNBC and a continuing failure to establish any extraordinary capability linked to the NBC identity.

Television networks face unique challenges in translating themselves to the Internet. It is television shows on the networks, not the networks themselves, that have strong brand identification. (When was the last time you heard someone say, "Let's see what's on NBC"?) This means network sites have little independent value to leverage. And because television shows are often owned by independent production companies, the opportunity to exploit a show's popularity to generate networkwide benefits is truncated.

That was already clear when NBC sought to fuse Snap, formerly a property of CNET Networks (the publisher of News.com), Xoom, and its own independent properties into a new media entity. Xoom had been founded to look like free Web-hosting communities such as GeoCities, but had a business model that was based on selling products to its member base. Despite sharp reviews and excellent implementation of technologies such as a "My" page, Snap failed to catch Yahoo or even lesser rival LookSmart.

See news story:
NBC to take NBCi back in-house
Moreover, NBCi's other components were largely also-rans. NBC believed the whole was greater than the sum of its parts, but identified no shape or direction for the whole, and its hubristic strategy failed.

NBCi's demise holds particular warnings. Among them are the relative value of first-to-market status in some businesses, most notably in those that involve the establishment of community and online identity--as evidenced by the enduring prominence of America Online, Yahoo and Microsoft among portals. Also, enterprises seeking promotional partners in any substantially new medium should not presume that power in an earlier medium will translate.

That is a counter-lesson that sets out the challenges to the Time Warner portion of AOL Time Warner and sets up the likely confusion to come in advertising, promotion and media properties on wireless and interactive voice-response devices.

Entire contents, Copyright ? 2001 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.