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Dow Jones, Excite JV bids for Web IPO gravy

The old guard has been getting jealous - but Dow Jones Newswire still can't print '@'

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Dow Jones & Co, publisher of Dow Jones Newswire and The Wall Street Journal is bidding for Internet gravy via joint venture business-to-business portal with Excite@Home. The two will merge Excite's Work.com portal with Dow Jones' free business news site dowjones.com in a 50-50 venture, and intend to IPO it. Trebles all round? Almost certainly, if the climate doesn't turn nasty in the interim. The two see it as a marriage made in heaven, and hope the analysts will as well. Excite@Home already aims Work.com at small businesses, and already supplies Dow Jones news content to them via the portal. By reversing dowjones.com itself into the equation Work.com should get greater impetus, and Dow Jones' apparently not totally successful attempt to pitch itself at small businesses can be brought to a graceful end. How many small businesses do you know that automatically think Dow Jones Newswire when it comes to news? Exactly. And Dow Jones' announcement specifically refers to its own Wall Street Journal Interactive as "one of the few successful subscription-based Web sites," while conspicuously failing to comment on the success or otherwise of dowjones.com. Where, however, is the beef? Work.com may turn out to be more successful as a branding exercise, and will have the advantage of Excite providing it with an entry in far broader markets than are penetrated by Excite@Home, which is a US-only cable-based service. In the short run the move is probably a better plan than the dubious Web strategy most wire services have blundered into, basically over-distributing their content to anyone who'll have it, and thus eventually sending their own margins south. But the move might well cannibalise WSJ Interactive readership, and might cause problems with Dow Jones' ability to sell feeds to Excite rivals. Work.com also needs more in the way of content and services for small business if it's to succeed, but there are signs that it intends to get that. According to Dow Jones it will "meld front-office and back-office applications, including Web-site hosting, payroll services and accounting aids, with file sharing, e-mail services and business news from selected Dow Jones sources." That is, it intends to pitch into the ASP business as well, which begs some interesting questions about who the software development partners are going to be. Excite@Home parent AT&T is of course an ally of Microsoft's in the US cable business, but only sort of, as it inherited a lot of Sun baggage and allegiances when it was buying up franchises. Still, the IPO should work. ®

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