'NBR' not ruling out Telecom collaboration

Telecom may yet play a part in the ground-breaking National Business Review Business Centre Online project.

Telecom may yet play a part in the ground-breaking National Business Review Business Centre Online project, according to the centre’s manager, Graeme Colman.

Along with NBR’s 12 “charter sponsors”, the launch by Liberty Press throws a spotlight on Clearfield Communications, the two-year-old company which developed and hosts the centre, Microsoft New Zealand, whose contribution is described by marketing manager Steve Jenkins as “our biggest yet on an Internet project” and Voyager, which will provide a connectivity deal for NBR customers. (The site is at http://www.nbr.co.nz.)

Telecom is presently out of the loop, despite having had first look in on an NBR project during extensive discussions with Colman last year.

“I talked with Telecom before Xtra was even invented as a name, all through last year. We invited them to tender for the construction and hosting of our site, but basically they couldn’t get the price right,” says Colman.

Clearfield came into the picture in January, when Colman had a firmer vision of what the site should do, and discussed the possibilities with Clearfield principals Ken Westlake and Bob Geary.

“By March we had the full proposal in place, and we said let’s go to the market and see if this is viable, because back in March there was no money on the Internet. Ad revenues were extremely small--there was no Xtra, no nothing.

“So we had viability by March and then we went back into the detailed process of sifting out the tenderers--the site specifications particularly were quite an intensive process. And then we had competitive tendering going. Telecom was one of about five but its price wasn’t quite right--I don’t want to criticise them for that--each of those tendering had special attributes.”

Colman says Telecom could still be good for the site in terms of co-marketing its services and the databases behind it. He believes Telecom has done a good job of expanding the market.

“The market will continue to grow, the deals will get better and better for the customer. Content providers like us need that to bring people through our shopfronts.”

The NBR centre, which went live on yesterday with 26 sites and 1500 principal pages, is the best expression yet of the trend towards synergies and strategic alliances in New Zealand’s Internet. NBR appears to have tapped the market just as it was taking off, having begun seeking major sponsorships in March.

Colman says he thought it would take until the end of June to sell the sponsorship proposals, but they were all sold in three-and-a-half weeks.

“That told us there was an immense interest. Some of our charter sponsors at that point didn’t even have a Web site, some of the chief executives didn’t know anything about the Internet, but they knew that they had to be there.”

Seventeen other companies have since signed up as charter advertisers, allowing Colman to boast that the project will be in profit from day one. Although registration with the centre is free, other revenue streams will flow from subscriptions to informations services and commissions from third-party services available through the site.

“I’m a very firm believer that you need channels and malls if the Internet is going to be useful to people, and that’s what we’re providing,” says Colman.

In the next few weeks Liberty is expected to spend $494,000 on advertising the site--much of it in its own publications--and on direct marketing though its customer databases.

It will also publish a magazine promoting the centre.

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