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Excite changes channels

The firm will organize its search engine around TV-like "channels" to make its site more attractive to readers and advertisers.

In a strategic shift for the company, Excite (XCIT) announced today that it will organize its search engine around TV-like "channels" in an attempt to make its site more attractive to readers and advertisers.

As previously reported by CNET, the idea behind the change is to create a Web experience that mimics other media. The channel model makes the search engine company's site more user-friendly, and it allows advertisers to buy in a more familiar way, Excite chief executive George Bell said in an interview last night.

He called the changes a "new strategic direction" for the company. Excite's current model builds around functionality, such as individual icons that direct users to Web site reviews or chat. But they focus on all subjects, rather than individual topics.

"We are borrowing from the navigation technology that people already have been steeped in through other media," Bell said. "As a result, we believe people will stick around for longer periods of time, and we will move closer to our goal of being more than 'search.'"

Excite's stock price was virtually unchanged in midday trading.

Bob Pittman, president of America Online, said in a statement last night: "Consumers clearly identify with channels, and we are pleased with Excite's new direction. It will provide additional rich functionality to AOL NetFind, the search product we launched last week [that is powered by Excite]."

"We're [seeing] the search engines fulfill the role of being gateways to the Internet, where consumers go to navigate the Web," Mark Mooradian, an analyst with Jupiter Communications said today, adding that he was surprised that the announcement was made so soon. "A few years ago, that's what the online services did."

Mooradian sees Excite's move as "Excite emulating Yahoo." But he thinks it is a sound strategy that will help both companies take leadership roles in the cutthroat search engine industry. "There's room for a couple of players in this space. I certainly can see Yahoo and Excite coexisting peacefully--or not so peacefully--on the Web." (See related story)

The changes will be implemented gradually during the next 45 days. In the next few weeks, Excite will roll out 14 channels, starting with topics such as arts and entertainment, sports, business and investing, and computing and Internet. Each channel will also contain news, directories, bulletin boards, chat, and search capabilities around for each particular topic.

The new channel infrastructure will let advertisers execute sponsorships and media buys to a targeted group.

In April, all Excite content will be offered to consumers through channels. The company will continue to partner with new content providers as well. Joe Kraus, senior vice president of Excite, said, "1997 is the year of partnering."

In the third and fourth quarter of this year, Excite will build out each channel as its own independent unit, managed by its own producer. Producers will further expand the content, similar to the way that television networks operate.