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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Tech Talk—Naming a Price for Disney’s Go.com May Be Difficult

A year ago, a name like Go.com would have been worth big bucks to the Walt Disney Co., owner of the soon-to-be-deceased portal.

While the outcome of the major restructuring of Disney’s online operations, announced last week, remains uncertain, but one thing’s for sure: Disney’s not going to get a lot richer off the sale of the Go.com name.

Granted, the stakes are not huge. Disney bought the Go.com address for $100,000 in 1998. But it undoubtedly would have fetched far more than that on the open market as the dot-com frenzy reached its peak in late 1999 and early 2000.

Nonetheless, Michelle Bergman, a spokeswoman for the Walt Disney Internet Group, confirmed that the company is considering selling the assets of Go.com, including the URL, to “an appropriate buyer.”

Appropriate or not, the name sale will yield chump change by Disney standards.

“They’re certainly not going to go off and start a new theme park with the funds raised from selling Go.com,” quipped Ira Bachrach, president of NameLab Inc., a San Francisco-based name-branding company that also markets and values domain names.

According to Bachrach, the Go.com name has some value, but Disney will have a tough time reselling it in today’s choppy marketplace.

“Go.com is a suitable name in terms of semantics, because the name suggests movement and kinetic energy, which various companies could use globally,” Bachrach said. “But the value is diminished because it carries the baggage of being associated with something that has been poorly defined.”

Go.com was originally launched to compete with heavy-hitting portals like Yahoo! and America Online. When that failed, the site was re-launched with a new design and features that emphasized just entertainment and leisure pursuits.

The value of the Go.com name is also diminished by the presence of Pasadena-based GoTo.com, a more successful and similarly named portal, Bachrach said.

While an industry has formed around the reselling of domain names, the tech meltdown and addition of various Top Level Domains (TLDs) has made the business unpredictable and less lucrative.

The best thing for Disney to do, according to Bachrach, is to bank the name.

“Because they have no need for an immediate return, I would advise them to keep it and try to find a buyer several years from now when the name doesn’t carry the Disney baggage,” he said.

As it shops for a potential buyer, Disney said it would continue to operate a streamlined Go.com site.

Building Relationships

Three compelling words describe the business model of Beverly Hills-based MatchNet PLC: love, romance and sex.

MatchNet operates a handful of Web sites that provide dating services to singles here and abroad, and the company has been ramping up by buying a competitor and inking deals with At Home Corp. and at least one other yet-to-be-announced big-league portal.

Last month, the company scooped up San Francisco-based SocialNet Inc., a rival online dating service, which boosted MatchNet’s membership from 1.5 million to 3 million registered users.

In a few weeks and just in time for Valentine’s Day At Home Corp.’s Excite@Home portal will feature one of MatchNet’s dating sites as the portal’s exclusive dating service.

“Our business model is based on three variables: the proliferation of the Internet, the continuation of a singles population and the human need for love, romance and sex,” said Alison Roth, MatchNet’s vice president of business development.

Sounds like a sure thing, as long as MatchNet’s users are willing to pay for the service. So far, however, most users are not paying. Instead, they are opting to use MatchNet’s extensive free services. The idea, according to Roth, is to transition the for-free users to a subscription model by offering enticing benefits.

The company has yet to make a profit, but expects to do so by the end of the first quarter, according to Roth.

Curiously, the company was incorporated in England, trades publicly on Germany’s Frankfurt Stock Exchange, yet is based in Beverly Hills.

MatchNet went public in Germany last June, Roth said, because the company’s second group of investors is based in Germany. With that IPO, MatchNet raised about $26 million.

Roth said the company was incorporated in England because the company’s initial group of private investors is based there.

The company reported a net loss of $2.9 million for the third quarter ended Sept. 30 and revenues of $1.2 million. Year-earlier figures were not immediately available.

MatchNet’s lovelorn users disclose a wealth of personal information when they register to use the site. Everything from age to hobbies to hair color are fodder at MatchNet’s sites, which encourage users to fill out personal profiles called “essays.”

“We capture a wealth of information in our in-depth registration process,” Roth said. “While honoring privacy, we hope to slice and dice that information and share it with advertisers in a meaningful way.”

MatchNet was founded in 1998 by two Angelenos, Joe Shapira and Alon Carmel, who serve as the company’s CEO and president, respectively.

Naughty Dealings

Santa Monica-based software developer Naughty Dog Inc. found a mighty suitor last week. Sony Corp.’s Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc. announced that it has acquired the independent game development house and the creator of the sizzling-hot Crash Bandicoot franchise.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but they were probably sweet for the software developer.

Naughty Dog turned Crash Bandicoot into a four-title empire, selling 20 million copies, with the third title alone bringing in $150 million.

Naughty Dog’s 30-person team will become a Sony unit and will operate under the Naughty Dog brand name to create content exclusively for PlayStation 2 consoles.

Naughty Dog had been under a three-project deal with Vivendi Universal’s Universal Interactive Studios, which bought the rights to Naughty Dog’s characters and published them through Sony.

“It was a confusing relationship, but Universal was a kind of middleman,” said Naughty Dog co-founder Jason Rubin. “At some point last year, we said to Sony, ‘We have the development potential and you have the publishing potential, so let’s do something new dedicated to PlayStation 2.'”

He would not comment on the project and said only that it would be a new character-based action game.

Staff reporter Hans Ibold can be reached at hibold@labusinessjournal.com.

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