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Is it the browser or is it the portal?

Netcenter's senior VP for marketing and strategic development talks about where the site is going and how it plans to get there.

Is it the browser or is it the portal?

With the beta launch of Netscape Communications' updated Communicator 4.5 suite, the question can be answered simply by the spate of new services, such as smart browsing, which drive traffic toward the recently revamped Netcenter 2.0 portal site.

Netscape's ambition is to become the leading portal by the year 2000. The company has going for it millions of browser software users that will generate traffic to Netcenter, which the firm can leverage to draw in advertising revenue.

Though Netscape attracts one of the largest Web audiences, thanks to Netcenter being the default home page for its browser users, the company still has a lot of work to do now that it has stepped into the ring with Web heavyweights Yahoo and Excite.

CNET NEWS.COM spoke with Jennifer Bailey, senior vice president for marketing and strategic development for Netcenter, to see where the site is going and how it plans to get there.

NEWS.COM: After the launch of Netcenter 2.0, where is the portal going?
Bailey: Where we're going is we will continue to fill out the consumer channels that we have on the site, primarily finance, more specific local offerings, and the entertainment/lifestyle/kids and family kinds of offerings. Some of those are being borrowed, so to speak, by Excite, and we will be establishing our own direct relationships with media partners to develop more in-depth content programming in consumer channels.

Media partnering, for example, like with your partnership right now with ABCNews.com?
Right, similar types of relationships with ABCNews.com where we would have a number of entertainment types of programming--TV, movies, entertainment headlines, entertainment gossip--integrated into [the entertainment] channel. Some of those channels, in terms of the programming you see inside them, will change over time as we bring on additional media partnerships.

Does that mean that right now Excite is there in the interim before you actually do sign these deals with media partners?
Yes. Excite, as a part of the Excite relationship, has about half of our [channels] and they'll continue to have them for the duration of our relationship. Those channels include things like autos, health, lifestyles, education, games. The other channels--like news, finance, local, entertainment, kids and family, and sports--are the channels we will program out of the next 60 to 90 days, and we'll be doing that with various media partnerships.

Which media companies are you planning to partner with?
We haven't announced specifically any relationships in that space yet, but you can expect us to do that soon.

Are we expected to see integration and more traffic driven from browser software into Netcenter in the future as you continue updating versions of the software?
Definitely. The more we tie some of these services into the user interface of the browser, the simpler user experience we can have. The service overall will be appropriate for anyone using any browser.

What does Netcenter need to do now to keep going on its efforts and to be more competitive in this landscape?
You'll see us move aggressively in filling out those consumer content channels like sports and finance. You will see us expand our community offerings. You'll see us extend the programming around discussion forums, as well as move into other areas of communication and community applications. The third area is in the area of commerce. We're looking at [offering] a variety of commerce-related services.

Many portal companies have been acquiring other services or companies instead of developing the technology or services themselves. For example, Lycos acquired Tripod in the community space and Yahoo acquired ViaWeb in the commerce space. Is Netcenter also expecting to make bids toward acquisition?
Yes. We're looking at a variety of strategies from building some of these things ourselves to partnering to acquisitions, and acquisitions is one consideration.

How do you change the public consciousness from thinking of Netscape as strictly a technology-related company to viewing it as a media company?
It's marketing and promotion--it's advertising. The trick is getting people to come to the site at least once or twice, and for us, once they get there, to really satisfy whatever they wanted to do. If you ask consumers at large what they think about Netscape--most broad consumers, I mean people who read USA Today--they associate Netscape with the Internet. They may not even understand that we're a browser company because consumers at that level don't necessarily understand specifically what a browser is. Most consumers have a hard time differentiating between the browser, the ISP, and the content. So that brand awareness will leverage easily into this space.