Room at the top of
may be getting too crowded for CEO Harry Motro.
The story, from people familiar with the company, is that
Internet czar Jake Winebaum is running the show at Infoseek, and newly promoted Infoseek Executive Vice President of Products Patrick Naughton is running day-to-day operations.
Motro, in New York to make a presentation at
PaineWebber's 3rd Annual Internet Conference
, didn't directly respond to the report, nor to another rumor that he may be departing soon. Instead, in an interview with
, Motro said he doesn't see the reported scenario as half empty but half full.
Motro said if Winebaum, chairman of the Buena Vista Internet Group at Disney -- which has a 43% stake in Infoseek -- is closely involved in Infoseek, that's the way things ought to be. "This is what I wanted," he said. "I want their involvement."
Winebaum, is "an intelligent executive who has a passion for the Internet and a passion for the
. And he's been a great supporter of all our efforts," Motro says. Motro also has good things to say about Naughton, calling him "incredibly talented, gifted in the product area."
To some onlookers, Disney, in its search to establish a mass-appeal Web property, got its 43% in Infoseek relatively cheap. In the deal that closed last November, Disney contributed its shares of its Website subsidiary
for $897.8 million in Infoseek shares and options. It also spent $70 million in cash, and issued a $139 million promissory note for additional shares and a warrant enabling it to eventually obtain a majority stake in Infoseek. (Starwave hosts some of
Four months later, Infoseek is trading at more than double the price it was then, putting a value on the portal in the neighborhood of $5 billion. But Motro says he negotiated a good deal -- partly because of the value of the promotions he's getting on other Disney media properties and partly because the Starwave sites he obtained in the deal have seen their traffic grow relatively quickly.
The fundamental question facing Motro and Infoseek is whether GO Network, a broad-based portal that officially launched in January, can distinguish itself from the likes of
-- not to mention
Despite competitors already in place, Motro says there
room for GO. "All the portals will be successful," he says.
The secret to GO's possible success isn't visible on its home page. Except for its green traffic-light GO logo, it looks perfectly undistinguished and generic. GO links to all the properties in the Disney/Infoseek universe -- the Infoseek search engine, ESPN.com and ABC.com, for example -- but buries them in logo-free text links at the bottom of the home page. And if you visit any of these sites, such as ABCNews.com, you'll discover a "GO" in the address line of your browser once you arrive at the site, turning ABCNews.com into ABCNews.GO.com. Similarly, type in ESPN.com, and you'll end up at ESPN.GO.com.
The strengths of GO Network, Motro says, are its Disney-backed promotional resources, and the various editorial properties in the network. But the idea, says Motro, is to not overwhelm the nascent GO Brand -- the same philosophy that will rule a GO-centric promotional campaign launching in April.
This isn't the first time a media company has tried to build an umbrella online brand from scratch by aggregating a collection of well-known editorial properties. It sounds just like
, in fact.
But Motro says Pathfinder was missing a number of crucial elements: "No search
engine," he says. (The site does in fact link to
.) "Now, they finally added email. No traffic base to leverage. No unified Time Warner support."
As for Infoseek's other portal competitors, Motro says, they don't have destination sites. "We think that no one has defined a portal as a place to get things done" -- a place to do something more than search.
What about Yahoo!? Motro says Yahoo!'s advertisements emphasize its Web directory, not how you can do things on the site.
Motro is also critical of
despite the software giant's Web credentials as the builder of the
portal and owner of financial site
, online magazine
, virtual car retailer
and online travel agent
. "They've got no kids," Motro says. "They've got no family. They've sort of partnered with
on news -- but NBC has another partnership with
." (Snap is yet another portal co-owned by NBC and
At least one shareholder is not too concerned about Infoseek looking just like other portals. "It's okay
that it's not too different from what the other portals are doing," says Fritz Linkner, research analyst at
Husic Capital Management
. "The actual features of the Web site are actually less important than getting people aware of the brand."
Motro says GO Network's products will keep Web visitors on the site and will be even more valuable when high-speed Internet access becomes more readily available two or three years from now. "We have a set of brands that consumers can look to," he says.
Customers might not easily find them right now. And where will we find Motro then?
The company doesn't comment on rumors, says a spokesman in a follow-up conversation. But that is not likely to stop the rumor mill.