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Netscape does new search deals

The firm signs deals with AltaVista, Infoseek, LookSmart, and Lycos--making them the premier providers on its Netcenter search page.

Netscape Communications has signed on search engines AltaVista, Infoseek, LookSmart, and Lycos to become "premier providers" to the search page on its heavily trafficked Netcenter gateway site.

Starting June 1, the four search engines will receive 50 percent of all traffic to the Net Search Page on Netcenter divided among them. The Netscape-branded search engine powered by Net gateway competitor Excite, on the other hand, will receive 25 percent of the search rotations. The remaining 25 percent will go to directly to Excite.

The new contracts are good for one year, according to Netscape. Financial terms were not disclosed.

While Infoseek and Portalopoly Lycos were previously featured as default search engines on Netcenter, the new deal marks the first time AltaVista has been prominently featured on the site. LookSmart previously was a "marquee" partner--along with AOL NetFind, WebCrawler, HotBot, and Snap (a division of CNET: The Computer Network, publisher of NEWS.COM). The marquee partners had a link on the Netscape search page, but they were not rotated into the default search position.

Netscape announced the two-year, $70 million deal with Excite for the Net gateway to power the Netscape-branded search engine earlier this month. The deal also allows Excite to cobrand content channels on Netcenter.

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Observers have noted that Netcenter's search page poses several quandaries for its partners: For one, most of Netscape's search partners are also competing with Netcenter to be the home page or portal for as many users as possible. Plus, with the advent of the Netscape-branded search engine, the partners are given less "play" as default engines, in essence devaluing the partnership.

Notably missing from the pack is search giant Yahoo, a longtime Netcenter search partner. Netscape said Yahoo will now become a "distinguished" search provider, which entails only a link to the site toward the bottom of the page.

Yahoo today said it would not serve out the remainder of its contract to power the Netscape Guide by Yahoo, which had another year before expiring. Instead, it will use the "credit" from its contract to fund status as a "distinguished" partner for the remainder of the contract's duration.

The distinguished status is similar to the former marquee partnerships. The marquee partners are being offered distinguished status as well, said Jennifer Bailey, vice president of the Web site for Netscape.

"Yahoo has gotten to the size and traffic that they can participate in branding perspective," Bailey said.

Chris Charron, an analyst at Forrester Research, said that among all the premier partners, Yahoo had the least to lose, since partnering with Net Search yielded only 8 percent of its traffic.

"Yahoo felt it was time for them to cut the cord," said Charron. "They probably felt they could put that cash to use in other ways."

In addition to the search deals, Netscape today announced the launch of Netscape Channel, a content destination targeting Netscape client software users. The site will provide news and information about Netscape products and technical information. All four premier search providers will also feature to the channel.

Today's revamp of Net Search and the addition of the Netscape Channel further demonstrate Netscape's aggressive push into the portal space with "Project 60," its 60-day plan to beef up Netcenter with content and free technology offerings such as email and search. Bailey said Netscape is currently in the middle of the 60-day push, and hinted that the site will undergo a major transformation by the end of June.

Netcenter is one of the most heavily visited sites on the Internet, and receives a significant amount of traffic from being the default home page for Netscape Navigator browser users.