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Content providers fight for readers

Industry giants like Microsoft seem to be getting serious about creating their own online material, leading traditional publishers to make new online alliances.

As the amount of content available on the Web snowballs, industry giants like Microsoft seem to be getting serious about creating their own material and more traditional publishers are striking alliances with technology companies to try to distinguish themselves from the newcomers.

Among the myriad content plans for its Microsoft Network, Microsoft is planning to publish regional online magazines with entertainment guides customized for several major cities. A source familiar with the software titan's project, code named Cityscape, said the company will open full news bureaus in several major cities, including New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Washington D.C., and Seattle.

Specific editorial strategies are still being developed, but the new publications will provide regionally based lifestyle articles and information, such as entertainment reviews and dining guides. They will compete with print magazines that cover those topics in the targeted cities and metropolitan areas, the source said.

The company has yet to officially announce the project.

Some analysts say that localized content will be the key to success for content providers in the near future. "Nobody has really gone in there and pumped out resources into local areas. The ultimate reason people are going to log on in the future will be to get restaurant reviews, movie guides, and to see what's going on," said Mark Mooradian, an analyst with Jupiter Communications.

"The question is, are you going to eat where Microsoft tells you to eat or take your local content providers advice? Their success will depend on who you want to listen to," he said.

In a related announcement, a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC called MSNBC in July will launch a daily prime-time news show with Tom Brokaw, Katie Couric, and Bill Moyers as alternating hosts. The hour-long show, one of three that NBC News will develop with Microsoft, has not yet been named. Content from all three will be recycled for publication on the MSNBC site.

Responding to such challenges, more traditional publishing ventures such as Time Warner's Pathfinder will have to adjust to fend off the new competition. As part of its strategy to continue to hold its spot as one of the most popular online sites--with articles from publications including Time, People, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, and others--Pathfinder is expected to announced a deal next week with search engine company Verity.

The deal will let users search for information throughout the large Pathfinder site by using Verity's TopicSearch and Agent Server technologies. Pathfinder's "Siteseeker" service will be the first to use Verity technology, but it will be followed by GFI/Market Vision, Dow Jones' Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition, DowVision, Infoseek's iGuide, CondeNet, and Reuters Health Information Services, according to Verity officials.

Similarly, New York newspaperNewsday also today signed an agreement with Net search tool company Excite to build a Web search service into its online publication. The service will help readers both search the Newsday site for new or archived material and to search the Web without leaving the Newsday site.

Excite also recently signed a comparable deal with the Los Angeles Times for a service called SoCal Excite, which opened as part of the newspaper's online edition earlier this month.

Mooradian says that the biggest players are newspapers because they have the best brand name. "I would expect deals to be made with America Online and say, for example, the San Francisco Chronicle," he said. "It's just a matter of time before it all shakes out, and when it happens it's going to be tough to survive once big players get involved."

Related story:
New service will customize Pathfinder