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BT looks up directories for revenue boost

Get ready for the Purple Pages

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BT today outlined plans to expand its directories operation following Oftel's decision to deregulate the 192 service and the recent acquisition of Scoot's business.

BT Directories will see the expansion of the basic directory enquiries service into an "integrated multi-media information service" by the end of this year.

Customers will be able to access both directory enquiries and classified listings, as well as retrieve information about weather forecasts, sports results and cinema listings via a single telephone number: 118 500. Other operators will also use 118 xxx numbers, to run in parallel with the familiar 192 number until the latter is phased out in August 2003.

As a result of deregulation the whole marketplace is changing with all operators moving from a fixed price charging system to a time-based system. BT expects the cost of typical directory calls to stay about the same, and promises substantial reductions in price from today's premium rate services for entertainment services and the like.

Last year, BT sold its Yell subsidiary for £2.1 billion as part of drive to reduce the enormous debt burden of £30 billion.

Following the completion of the £8 million (in cash and debt) acquisition of Scoot, BT plans to re-enter the classified listings market. The Scoot acquisition gives BT access to search engines and databases covering most businesses in the UK, and will enable the introduction of new classified pages.

Pierre Danon, chief executive, BT Retail, told us it was considering the introduction of purple pages to compete against Yell's Yellow Pages, though this is still undecided.

This book (whatever its colour) is expected to be the main revenue driver in BT's expanded directories operation, he told us, adding that over time electronic and mobile channels will become more important. Scoot's business model was flawed because it lacked a phone book, he added.

BT's strategy for the new service also includes a possible future option for customers to store personal information like telephone numbers, address books and banking details with the monster telco.

It is considering introducing 'fulfilment services', such as ticket bookings and share dealing, to sit alongside its directory operations.

BT is looking to generating extra revenues of £100 million by 2004/5 through expanding its directory operations. However BT expects these gains will be offset to some extent by deregulation and increased competition in the directory enquiries market. ®

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