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Disney, Infoseek not afraid of competition

Executives from the two firms say the strength of the Disney brand offline and the features in the new Go Network will set it apart from other portals.

Disney and Infoseek executives today shrugged off concerns about a late start in the portal space.

The two media companies, which launched their joint project the Go Network last night, touted the strength of their existing Web properties that are conglomerated under the Go banner.

"We're launching with 20 million users," noted Jake Winebaum, chairman of Buena Vista Internet Group, Disney's online arm. Winebaum spoke with Infoseek chief executive Harry Motro during a conference call this morning.

Winebaum contrasted the Go portal effort with Time Warner's Pathfinder network of sites, which met with disappointing results. Go.com, he noted, aggregates a number of well-established if not ubiquitous brands, including ABC, ABCNews, Disney, ESPN, Family.com, and Mr. Showbiz.

Each of those sites has a new address and a new Go-centric interface with today's launch. "http://espn.com," for example, now resolves to "http://espn.go.com," and each of the individual branded sites now carries the Go toolbar with Infoseek search, free email, and links to other parts of the network.

Go will also bring to bear Disney's formidable marketing powers both online and off. That will mean not only recirculating traffic within the network, but also driving traffic from Disney's television shows, movies, trailers, print media, and theme parks.

"That's something the competition clearly can't duplicate," Winebaum said.

In addition to the 20 million unique users of the various Disney and Infoseek sites, Go.com will have at its disposal a common database of registered users of the collected sites and services. That database currently boasts 8 million names. Under Go.com, registration will now provide access to all of the network's free services.

Even with its built-in advantages in content and marketing, Go.com has its work cut out for it in challenging portal heavyweight Yahoo and others.

Infoseek's Motro emphasized the importance of the network's nuts and bolts both in securing new Internet users and in siphoning off some of the competition's traffic.

"Don't underestimate the power of simplicity, of our control features, and of the confidence added by the brands," Motro said in an interview with CNET News.com. "Users are overwhelmed by the Internet. But here we have all these different sites in different spaces with universal registration. That's new."

And that's something the other portals don't necessarily share, Motro said. Seventy-seven percent of Netizens use multiple search engines, he noted, indicating that loyalty to a portal is not particularly strong. But with a content site such as ESPN.com, loyalty strengthens markedly. With the new common toolbar to the Go sites, ESPN.com users are likely to turn to Go before venturing out of the network to Yahoo or another portal or search engine.

In addition to competing for users already online, Motro and Winebaum have set their sights on the next 50 million users coming online. That's where Disney's offline properties come in handy.

"We're going to get those users through the four ESPN networks, through the ABC TV network, which is used by 150 million people a week," Motro said. "There has never been this kind of brand built on the Internet."