broadband communications, wants its portal designation to be taken seriously.
It has high-profile relationships with Bank One Corp., Charles Schwab & Co., and Intuit Inc., and denies any direct financial services ambitions of its own. We have no plans on turning into a traditional banking service company, said Brett Bullington, executive vice president of Excite Home. We're an information services provider.
When visitors to the Excite main page click on the key word Money, they go to a page branded with the Excite and Quicken.com names, the latter an Intuit property. The page offers market indexes sponsored by Schwab, news headlines, and links to the Quicken mortgage center and other specialized Web sites.
For on-line banking, there is a direct link to a site cobranded with Bank One. Bank One's new Internet-only offshoot, WingspanBank.com, is also advertising on Excite.
Like its rival Yahoo, the Excite portal has humble origins but has recently built considerable heft. Excite Inc. had $150 million of sales in 1998, the last full year before its merger with Home Corp., a provider of high-speed Internet access to cable television boxes, which created Excite Home. The $6.7 billion stock transaction was the largest ever between Internet companies.
In the most recent quarter, Excite Home posted $100 million of revenue, up from a pro forma $42.2 million in the second quarter of 1998. The merger's stated goal was to market Home's broadband connections, and the rich content they enable, to Excite's loyal audience, which stood at 38 million registered users at the end of the second quarter. Page views were running at 81 million a day.
Excite's 17 million unique users for the month of June, as measured by the New York research firm Media Metrix, ranked sixth among portals, trailing America Online, Yahoo, Microsoft's sites, Lycos, and Go Network.
Six years ago the search engine at the heart of Excite was merely a topic of dinner conversation among six young Stanford University graduates who gathered for burritos at Rosita's Taqueria in Redwood City, Calif.
After deciding that they did not want to work for a big company, the six got the idea to build software that would help people find their way through the growing mass of information on the Internet.
They developed the Architext Web search software while holding down day jobs. After hunting down venture capital funding, they launched Excite in 1995. That year, revenues were about $500,000.
Despite the ensuing growth, Excite Home officials say, the mission of the portal remains the same -- giving consumers the information they want.
The founders thought they could share information to change the way people do things around the world, Mr. Bullington said. They wanted to help people get access to information, buy things, communicate, establish friendships, and learn from people.
Besides the search engine, which lets visitors do key-word searches, www.excite.com offers a slew of services, including on-line shopping, chat groups, and even a pregnancy calendar for expectant mothers. The site lets visitors customize the pages that first come on their screens when they go on the Internet. This personalization is a big part of the portal's popularity, Mr. Bullington said.
It's a densely populated page that has all of your information on it, he said. It allows you to get it fast and move on.
Excite Home is expanding its role in electronic commerce, notably through the recently announced, $425 million purchase of iMall Inc., which helps merchants create on-line storefronts. But the company will not directly challenge partners like Bank One, Mr. Bullington said.
The iMall deal brought Excite into a closer relationship with the transaction processing giant First Data Corp., which owned 11% of iMall and works closely with Bank One in serving merchants' credit card processing needs.
Bank One officials said their exclusive portal relationship with Excite was a natural extension of one that its First USA credit card subsidiary previously established. Excite's partnership with Intuit strengthened the attraction.
We also had a strong relationship with Intuit, said Bruce Luecke, president of interactive delivery services at Bank One. It allowed us to expand that relationship and do some promotions with Intuit.
Bank One also benefits from Excite's acquisition last year of MatchLogic, a research firm that tracks the effectiveness of on-line advertising. MatchLogic has probably the largest data base of unique users on the Web and a potentially very powerful revenue tool, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter analyst Mary Meeker said in a research report this spring.
Mr. Luecke described the targeted advertising enabled by MatchLogic as direct mail on steroids.
The banking company gets quick feedback on the success rate of its Internet ads and can adjust placements daily to maximize effectiveness. Neither Excite nor Bank One would disclose what the latter pays for having Excite visitors sent its way. Mr. Luecke said the agreement is such that they win when we win.
Bank One offers electronic bill presentment and payment through the site it cobrands with Excite, relying on the E-Bill service from Checkfree Holdings Corp. of Norcross, Ga.Excite users can participate in a beta test of an electronic billing offering at the portal's Money Channel, maintained by Intuit, also a user of E-Bill.
The advertising and sponsorship agreements Excite Home works out with companies like Bank One are its main source of revenue. New income streams are being explored in the wake of Excite's acquisition by Home.
There appears to be huge potential in offering a high-speed cable modem service as an alternative to dial-up telephone connections. Only 620,000 currently subscribe to the cable service, which promises to accelerate Internet connection speeds by 10 to 100 times.
Eventually cable modem users should be able to gain quick access to the Internet through any device. Accordingly, the Redwood City, Calif., company's mantra is All Band, All Device, All the Time.
Still the combined company faces challenges in building its broadband presence.
As Home's customer traffic is increasing, so are consumer complaints, said analysts at Jupiter Communications, a research and consulting firm in New York. In fact, 1,000 customers in the San Francisco area had so many problems that AT&T, a major shareholder in Excite Home, offered five months of free service to compensate them, said a Jupiter report.
Meanwhile, local constraints, such as the number of households in a neighborhood using a cable connection point, can slow broadband speeds during peak hours to resemble normal dial-up connections, the analysts wrote.
Another challenge is political. AT&T is being pressured by Internet service providers to break its exclusive agreement with Excite Home for providing cable modem access in AT&T's cable markets.
If early adopters grow disheartened by tales of poor customer service, ventures taking the broadband plunge may find that the audience for their messages will be much smaller than anticipated, said the Jupiter analysts. Second, to the extent that Excite Home has made bandwidth claims to on-line ventures . . . ventures should question whether they represent actual, average, or best-case scenarios.
Even as Excite Home forges ahead with its cable pipes for fast Internet access, Mr. Bullington said the company keeps in mind the factors that brought Excite its large and loyal audience.
The key thing is to learn what customers really want to do and provide that to them in a way that provides them with added value, he said.