Has Citizen Conn got the ticket?
By Tim Clark
Staff Writer, CNET NEWS.COM
Charles Conn's Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch is a survivor in the online local
guide war, but these days Conn has national dominance on his mind.
CitySearch will soon have a total of 77 Web sites devoted to local
entertainment after swapping
equity with Microsoft for its 40-some local guides.
Nailing the Microsoft Sidewalk deal was a coup for Conn, giving CitySearch
a true national presence, along with the clout to cut bigger, national
advertising deals that could help make the company profitable.
"CitySearch's Achilles heel has been its inability to expand its reach,"
said analyst Peter Krasilovsky, who follows the local Web market for Kelsey Group.
Online, the beefed-up CitySearch competes neck-and-neck with America
Online's Digital Cities network
60-plus local sites.
But Conn doesn't lose sleep over AOL. What worries him more is other media
companies, particularly newspaper chains, trying to move their local
franchises to the Web. For now, Cox
Interactive and Knight Ridder's Real Cities networks, each with about
30 city sites, are the most active. Zip2,
now a part of the Altavista empire, also is cutting deals with local
Against all competitors, Conn argues that CitySearch's "tools to get things
done" differentiate its local sites. Ticketmaster Online sells tickets,
CityAuction runs local auctions,
and Match.com can connect kindred
spirits for fun or romance.
CitySearch also boasts a variety of revenue sources. Ticket sales of $17.8
million accounted for most of its $25.5 million in revenue last quarter. The
company also harvests cash from subscriptions to Match.com, fees for
auctions, money for hosting local small-business sites, and a smattering of
The ticketing income exemplifies the importance of CitySearch's merger last August with Ticketmaster
Online. CitySearch was literally pitching institutional buyers for its IPO
when Barry Diller proposed a merger. They married, then took the combined companies
Diller is CitySearch's biggest shareholder, and likely has ambitious plans
for fitting CitySearch with his other properties.
Likewise, Conn has big plans for CitySearch, too. In recent conversations
with News.com's Tim Clark and Michelle Mahoney of CNET TV, Conn discussed
some of those plans--and his persistent worries about looming competition.
News.com: It's called the World Wide Web, yet your sites are intensely local. How do you explain that paradox? How do you compare CitySearch with Yahoo or AOL?
Conn: The Web has shifted quietly and persistently from being just
about discovery. It's become much more about practical tools. That shift
has occurred quietly behind the scenes, but you've seen it in the growth of
sites like Amazon, eBay, E*Trade, and CitySearch.
National portals help you find out about what's on the Web. Local
portals really help you find out what's happening in your own community, and since people spend 90 percent of their time and money within 10 or 15
miles of their own homes, local portals make a lot more sense than national
portals do over time.
Do you see national portals becoming pass??
Pass? is probably too strong because people are always going to want
to navigate around the Web.
How do you intend to exploit that local trend?
Our theme for this year is getting things done. We've done a really
good job providing comprehensive information on what's happening. We intend
to go beyond ticketing to move into areas like scheduling and reservations.
You should be able to book a golf tee time online, get a tennis court,
maybe even book your doctor online. You should certainly be able to pay
your parking tickets or renew your license instead of having to go into the
NEXT: The future in view