The cofounders of Channel A knew what kind of Web site they wanted to create: one that captured the "Asian experience," but they weren't sure how to do it. How, for example, was it possible to develop a site that appealed to multiple Asian cultures and not go broke in the process?
The solution that Peggy Liu and Steve Chin came up with was a hybrid model that is as unlikely as the name they gave it.
"We call it the 'Disneyland-Sharper Image model': Bring them in, immerse them in an environment, have them go to another area and buy cowboy boots," said Liu, who left Internet rising star NetManage to become president and CEO of the Silicon Valley start-up. "We'll provide high-value, cool, sophisticated products with all the information you need. We're not a publication medium, not an electronic catalog, not a community site. We're a next-generation medium."
Channel A, which launched Tuesday, is a case study in what is rapidly becoming a standard for reaching targeted readers and consumers on the Web. Alternately referred to as narrowcasting, community-casting, and direct or "niche" marketing, all these variations of the strategy do the same thing: define the most specific group of people while maintaining the largest numbers possible.
As the Internet struggles to become a profitable medium, Web sites are experimenting with a variety of business models. While journalists like Chin, a reporter for eight years at the San Francisco Examiner, are looking for a way to support their online publications, advertisers are trying to capitalize on the Web's ability to reach narrowly defined markets through sites like Channel A.
"It's what I call 'community-casting': direct content communications services to specific groups or persons dictated by tastes and affinities," said Daniel H. Rimer, Internet analyst with investment banking firm Hambrecht & Quist. "'Narrowcasting' is a traditional term for direct marketing. Community-casting specifies main properties on the Web, customization, and community building. Rather than having something static, it is extremely dynamic, bubbling, creating, or generating something new all the time."