Court sez no Go, Disney rethinks site

Portal focusing on leisure, biz

Forced to get a facelift, Disney’s Go.com is adopting a new business model as well.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit lifted a stay Thursday and reinstated a preliminary injunction that forces the Mouse House to pull Go.com’s green and yellow traffic light logo from the Web, television spots and other promotional materials until after a trial in March.

The ruling in San Francisco came on the same day that execs from the popular portal said that the site would refocus its attention and operate as an entertainment and leisure destination rather than an “all purpose” Web site like close rivals Yahoo!, AOL.com and Lycos, among others.

The ruling reaffirms the preliminary injunction issued Nov. 16 by U.S. District Court Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr., which had been stayed by the Ninth Circuit pending an expedited appeal of the order.

Pasadena-based Internet search engine GoTo.com is suing Disney’s Go Network over the logo.

Last November, Hatter ordered Disney to stop using its Go Network logo until the trial, agreeing with GoTo.com that Disney’s logo was confusingly similar to its own, which it had been using since 1997. Go.com bowed in 1998.

Hatter reasoned that GoTo.com was likely to prevail in its claim and would suffer irreparable financial harm without an injunction.

Until today’s order, Disney was still using the logo, which has become an identifiable brand since bowing last year.

“We are grateful that the Ninth Circuit has reinstated Chief Judge Hatter’s order,” said GoTo.com CEO Jeffrey Brewer. “Two federal courts have now upheld GoTo.com’s position. This ruling will once again help us to eliminate the confusion created by the similarity of Disney’s logo to our own. But the real winners here are our customers. Customers have the right to not be confused. Today the court made that clear.”

Disney declined to comment.

Distinguished

Separately, Go.com prexy Steve Wadsworth said the restructuring of the Web site will help the portal differentiate itself from its rivals in the crowded and highly competitive world of dot-coms that offer a broad range of services from news tickers, stock quotes, sports scores and e-commerce, among other offerings, while sending visitors elsewhere for other content.

Go.com’s focus on entertainment and leisure is similar to CBS’ connection with portal IWon.com, which pushes its daily giveaways of cash prizes. NBC portal Snap.com still provides a broad range of services and information but stresses the broadcaster’s peacock logo.

“We certainly believe there will be room in the marketplace for a number of large portals or hubs on the Internet,” Wadsworth said. “Some will be better than others in certain areas. Looking at our strengths, we can win in the area of recreation, leisure and entertainment, and that’s what we’ll focus on.”

Despite the news, Go.com’s offerings and image will not change drastically. It plans to continue operating as a portal, offer search features and links to other sites.

Whatever changes are visible should occur as early as this summer, possibly helping Go.com attract more visitors to its site. More visitors means more advertising and other dollars and a possible boost to the site’s tracking stock.

Ranks No. 6

According to MediaMetrix, Go.com’s collection of Web sites ranks sixth among all sites. Go.com, by itself, was ranked seventh, behind Yahoo.com, Microsoft’s portal MSN.com and AOL.com, but higher than No. 10 Lycos.com.

According to the December 1999 MediaMetrix survey, AOL’s sites had 53.8 million different visitors for the month; Yahoo! boasted 42.4 million. The Go Network sites had 21.3 million visitors. Go.com alone had close to 19 million, signaling that its goal of acting as a way to send Netizens to its other properties is working.

With the move, Disney yields to critics who have long believed that Go.com should focus all of its attention on and stress the Mouse House’s entertainment brands — from Disney films and ABC News to ESPN and its Disney Stores — rather than trying to appeal to a general mass audience that may be more interested in just surfing the Web. Some say Go.com was already “too Disneyfied” to act as anything but a site featuring its own properties.

Sources say the new direction was planned well before the AOL/Time Warner merger was announced earlier this month.

Hope fulfilled

“I think we were hoping for something like this,” said David Card, an Internet analyst with Jupiter Communications. “Focusing on a particular audience is a good idea, and should help set them apart for all the other portals.”

One source close to Go.com said that reports that Disney would exit the portal game were ludicrous, citing the company’s acquisition of Internet search engine Infoseek Corp. It acquired a majority stake in Infoseek last November and merged it with its own Buena Vista Internet Group.

Disney redubbed its Buena Vista Internet Group Go.com to serve as an umbrella for its portfolio of Internet holdings, which include popular sites Disney.com, ABCNews.com, ESPN.com and the Disney Store Online, among others.

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