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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Internet

Digital City headed for Web

Web access will complement Digital City's privileged position on AOL as the online guide chases local ad dollars.

Digital City next month is expected to roll out a game plan for expanding to the Web, raising the stakes in the battle for local advertising dollars that top $80 billion annually.

But the market for online city guides is getting crowded, and a shakeout is inevitable. Digital City, 80 percent owned by America Online (AOL) and 20 percent owned by the Tribune Company (TRB), is entering a field that includes Yahoo, which today added Seattle to its list of cities profiled; CitySearch; Microsoft's Sidewalk; Cox Enterprises; and other media giants. Cox and Sidewalk also are making a big jump onto the Web this spring. (See related story)

The online sites face further competition from numerous local print and broadcasting properties.

Digital City is currently offered through AOL, which costs $19.95 a month for unlimited access. A Web site would be accessible through any online service or Internet service provider and would earn revenue through online advertising. The goal is to tap a bigger market, and, it seems, mimic a strategy being pursued by most other city guides.

Digital City's chief executive Paul DeBenedictis would not elaborate beyond confirming that the company would offer a Web strategy "in 1997." But company insiders expect it by midyear or sooner. Digital City has quietly posted a Web page promising that its city guides will be "coming soon to the Web near you."

Final details are being ironed out, but here's what's planned, according to sources:

  • The Web sites will complement but not replace access through AOL. That's because AOL offers Digital City an edge over the others: access to some 8 million customers on the biggest online network. The domain name will be "digitalcity." But like Yahoo, Digital City will give each city site its own address on the Web, such as "sfdigital city."

  • The company plans to roll out an aggressive mass-marketing advertising campaign that is likely to include ads on billboards, television, radio and newspapers.

  • The AOL site is likely to include some special features that the Web site does not. For example, the technology for chat on AOL--dubbed "virtual places"--is more advanced than on the Web, according to many insiders. The city guides on the Web still will offer some type of chat, however.

Two weeks ago, Digital City bought the key assets of WP Studio to bring Web content and design expertise to the company. Digital City now is the largest local online network, operating in 13 cities; that number will grow this year.

Its scope includes Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas; Denver, Hampton Roads, Virginia; Los Angeles, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Florida; Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington.