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Today's top 100 e-businesses: tomorrow's death list?

Sportal is Euro-winner

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Sportal is Europe's top privately-owned e-business, according to a Sunday Times e-league. Compiled by Bathwick Group, the e-league of Europe's top 100 private e-businesses names the top 10 (in descending order):


1. sportal.com
2. boxman.com
3. mondus.com
4. netdoktor.com
5. peoplesound.com
6. beenz.com
7. moreover.com
8. epo.com
9. silicon.com
10. letsbuyit.com

Sportal won pole position, outscoring the opposition on a qualititive assessment of non-financial characteristics in nine areas.


  • Management

  • Business vision and model

  • Technology infrastructure

  • Financial and user statistics

  • Market reach

  • Marketing and customer relationships

  • Staff and culture

  • Supplier and partner relationships

  • Information and knowledge management

You can read the full league table here at

www.bathwick.com/ir/eleague

. We shall use this list to tick off the entrants as they die or get taken over. The e-league has even more entertainment value - it certainly makes for eccentric reading. Here are some anomalies.



IT News extra

Compare and contrast Silicon.com, "IT news provider" in at No.7, and The451.com, "Hi-tech news provider, hitting the charts at 52.

Silicon.com operates a controlled circulation publishing model on the Web, while the absurdly self-regarding The451.com takes its bow from newsletter land. Silicon's technology is based on Bladerunner (a competitor to Broadvision). And it broadcasts TV over the Web. There is some heavyweight IT going on here, meriting, according to e-league, 16 out of a possible 20 marks. The451.com earns 14 out of 20 for technology, coincidentally, the same as high-profile British e-tailer Jungle.com.

But what is being compared here? The technology requirements for a niche news service (with traffic reduced to a trickle through a £400 per year entrance fee) is piffling compared with the bandwidth-crunching Silicon. And positively puny compared with a database-heavy, transaction-intensive mass-market e-tailer such as Jungle.com.

And where do the e-league marks for content come from? The451.com is ranked an astonishing eighth in this category.

Is this the same Web site awarded 1 out of 5 by The Independent's Charles Arthur ("very dull opinion pieces - at least you can read the headlines for free")?

Whoever marked The451.com for content fell for the Technology Firestarter marketing pitch hook line and stinker. (And here is our earlier story on this Internet non-starter Durlacher falls on Net Imperative collapse.)

e-tail is d-etail

Why should Blackstar.co.uk, the Northern Ireland video retailer, rank so much higher (13) than Jungle.com (52). (Come to think of it, why should WebWedding.co .uk (44) and countrybookshop.co.uk (41) be considered more successful e-businesses than Jungle? This is silly.)

Blackstar is a "B2C internet company that is pulling in real money. Think of Amazon, cut out everything but movies and you have Blackstar", the e-league says.

Blackstar is a nice-looking site, we've seen plenty of ads, and the e-league panel seems very taken by the quality of service. As is Simon Travaglia, author of BOFH, Register columnist, a New Zealand resident and Blackstar customer. The company has customers in more than 100 countries - not altogether surprising when it offers free shipping.

But there is no particular merit in selling movies only - the site is as niche as they come, operating in a mainstream marketplace. and Blackstar is a pretty small company - last August, investors pumped in £3.8 million for 33 per cent stake. If Blackstar is profitable (the inference we draw from the "pulling in real money" comment) then it is precisely because it is a small company.

But does it have the legs to become a big player?

There are some big-to-huge players, breathing down its neck, such as Blockbuster.co.uk and Amazon.co.uk., and potential threats from portal sites such as Virgin.net, and - if it gets its act together, Popcorn.co.uk, the Carlton-owned movie site.

Jungle also peddles DVDs and videos, from catalogues as well as its Web site. But it also sells a lot more than that, majoring on software and computers. Our guess- and it's a good one - is that it is currently turning over £100 million a year or so.) And if Jungle is in the e-league frame - why not Dabs.com?). We guess also that well-publicised customer service cock-ups ensured a comparatively low e-league ranking.

"The issue for Jungle.com is the same for all B2C companies - can it keep spending so much on marketing or can it create customer loyalty fast enough to be profitable soon," the e-league pronounces.

The issue then is which company - or to be precise - which VC - has the deepest pockets to see it through to IPO.

This is the most pressing problem facing Letsbuyit.com, the "B2C buying club", which pulled its IPO a few weeks ago. According to e-league, Letsbuyit.com is "still attracting interest and is planning a flotation later this month. It may be just the one to heal the wounds inflicted by Lastminute.com". Or maybe not... We think the Letsbuyit model is flawed (and here's why: Letsbuyit.com ducks out of float.)

Content is king?
We also question the high ranking for "news distributor" Moreover.com (No. 7), although the company's recent success in raising £15 million-worth of funding shows how little we know.

However, Moreover lacks first mover advantage, launching later than Newsnow.co.uk (not listed in the e-league, backed by Internet incubator fund Monticello), iSyndicate.com (American), and TDL Infospace (JV between Thompson Directories and Infospace, the world's biggest Web content aggregator). And, despite its venture capital war chest, it lacks scale advantage, compared with the likes of iSyndicate and Infospace.

TDL Infospace and iSyndicate are republishers (The Register has deals with both), charging customers who take content, while Moreover and Newsnow accumulate headlines from content-producing Web sites, including ours.

Newsnow charges Web sites for packaging and forwarding headlines from content-producing Web sites. TDL Infospace makes its money on the back of directory, Yellow Page-type directory services (increasingly popular with corporate intranets, apparently), while iSyndicate also takes click-through revenues from content producers.

And how is moreover.com to make money? "The company intends to get its income from advertising, so it can make its product available for free," e-league informs us. Fair play. But as an infrastructure software provider for other Web sites, it should surely be thinking about charging for its services.

Frank exchange

Most problematic of all are the B2B exchanges, several of which pop up in the e-league. Clearly huge money is pouring into this sector, and clearly there will be some winners. But who? We don't have a clue. And neither, we expect, does Bathwick or The Sunday Times. ®

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