Portals open doors to convergence at CES
January 8, 1999
by Jim Evans
(IDG) -- LAS VEGAS - You'll never guess what the big portals are talking about at the Consumer Electronics Show. Well, maybe you will. After all, it's been the buzzword for many CES shows, past and present: convergence.
"On January 1, nineteen ninety whatever, everybody always says, 'oh, this is the year of convergence,'" says Trevor Traina, president of CompareNet. "This year is no different."
But portals don't usually make big splashes at hardware shows like CES. At CES, convergence has mostly meant putting together different products like hand-held devices, televisions and computers. So why would the portals be interested in that?
It may be puzzling that the portals are in attendance at CES, a trade show where stereo executives mingle with television manufacturers. But many people are paying more attention to such platforms as hand-held devices, set-top boxes and the like.
"We're dabbling a little, but in a lot of areas," says B.D. Goel, Infoseek's senior VP and general manager of commerce. "We're tracking the trends very carefully, so we can jump on whatever happens. Because of our connection with Disney, we can do anything."
Other companies are doing more than dabbling. Last month, Yahoo announced testing of a product that will allow users to download their schedules and address books into 3Com's Palm Pilot via Microsoft's Outlook software. Infoseek has also looked at hand-held platforms.
"We are an information provider, so for us hand-helds have always been an integral part of our strategy," Infoseek's Goel says. "And we are tracking the process of handhelds."
Others say this is the perfect time for portals to be talking about convergence. Portals are beginning to look more and more like television networks. In particular, America Online, Lycos and the new Infoseek/Disney collaboration, Go.com, have all adopted a similar strategy: They run self-supporting brands as separate entities within a single network. The more networks a portal has, the higher the possibility that it can exploit its content through a different medium, like hand-held devices.
Although preaching convergence is important to the portal players, don't underestimate one of the big reasons portal companies are sending executives to CES: to make deals.
On Thursday, executives from Lycos, Excite and Infoseek will speak on a panel called "In the Eye of the Internet Networks: The Power of Conglomeration" at CES' Digital Hollywood, a kind of a show within the show. Expect more deals in the coming months like the one Infoseek recently signed with Microsoft making it the search engine on WebTV's services.
The message of Internet networks is an important one for the big portals. But the presence of portals at CES makes an even more significant statement: The portals firmly believe that theirs is the content medium of the future, and it has only just begun.
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