H&Q Notebook: @Home Excites, but Doesn't Talk Merger

Also, items on InfoSpace.com and the squalid life of a business journalist.
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SAN FRANCISCO -- With analysts betting that


(T) - Get Report

bid to acquire



will carry the day, money managers at the

Hambrecht & Quist Annual Technology Conference

were hoping that


(ATHM) - Get Report

would address

speculation about a merger with

Time Warner's




Instead, they got



CEO George Bell, who was mum on any merger talk -- the sort of evasion that's kind of an answer in itself. The slick Bell played coy. "Obviously, the chances of that increasing in @Home's favor seem pretty good," Bell told a packed Grand Ballroom in the

Westin St. Francis


Bell was more concerned with talking up another merger: his company's union with high-speed Internet player @Home. He trumpeted the potential value of this merger, which he said is set to close in three to four weeks. Broadly speaking, Bell said Excite will serve as the face on the bucket of chicken -- the consumer front end to @Home's back end.

Breaking it down, Bell defined four areas of value of the merged company: subscriber acquisition, crosspromotion, direct marketing and a bulked-up sales force.

A former documentary filmmaker, Bell was particularly keen on the potential for Excite to market @Home's cable modem services to the portal's 28 million registered users. Excite sent 150,000 emails to its registered users gauging their desire to upgrade to faster Internet access. Out of those emails, which were sent to people who had access to cable modems, Bell said the company garnered a 10% to 11% response rate (most spammers are thrilled by a 2% rate).

Also high on Bell's list was positioning Excite as the most advertiser-friendly search engine. Admitting that Excite would never put up the raw numbers of



, Bell instead argued that Excite was setting itself up as a direct-marketing powerhouse, with 43% of its users having personalized their portal home page. "We're gathering data and thinking more of direct marketing," said Bell.

Investors seemed to buy Bell's spiel. "I was impressed by the subscription model," said Pierre Poulin, who works for the venture-capital arm of

Testa Hurwitz & Thiebault

, a Boston-based law firm.


Spencer E. Ante

Piggyback Ride to Success

If you can't beat 'em, hitch your wagon to 'em.

Such is the strategy of many of the bush-league Net companies which lack the brand name and the vast market cap of the big Internet stars.


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CEO Naveen Jain told a standing-room-only group of investors and money managers here that the company is benefiting from its partners' successes.

Through alliances with




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America Online




(DIS) - Get Report



and others, the company's white pages, yellow pages and shopping services reach about 85% of all Web users. Each individual user clicks on to an average of 21 page views with InfoSpace.com content, said Jain, vs. the industry average of four to six page views.

Companies trying to do it on their own "have no future," said Jain.


Suzanne Galante

Musical Chairs for the Media

Prediction: Regardless of the "news" from Hambrecht & Quist's conference this year, the reports filed from here will come out rushed, bitter and, hell, bewitched, bothered and bewildered.

No, it's not a




convention here. Rather, the pressroom is woefully inadequate for a swelling crowd of journalists -- an ornery lot in the best of times. Despite the fact that H&Q is expecting more than 100 journalists to cover this event, the firm has provided a pressroom with just 28 seats -- and even fewer phone and modem lines. The pressroom itself is the exact same room that was overcrowded last year, when the journalist crowd numbered in the 40s.

"People are really excited about the conference, and they recognize Hambrecht & Quist's leadership in the technology field," said H&Q spokeswoman Carol Newman. "That's why we're moving to a different hotel next year."

Great. Just in time.


Cory Johnson