Lisa Simmons: If content is king, then the king is dead

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The Independent Online

If content, particularly the sticky variety, is king on the Web, those looking for the crown jewels might be severely disappointed. Two more content-based online propositions ran into trouble last week.

If content, particularly the sticky variety, is king on the Web, those looking for the crown jewels might be severely disappointed. Two more content-based online propositions ran into trouble last week.

eCountries, an online news, information and b2b marketplace targeted at companies looking to develop an international presence, came to an unsticky end after investors 3i, Elderstreet, and Pi Capital pulled out. Next to hit a brick wall was subscription-based technology news service the451.com, which has cut 20 per cent of its workforce in a bid to reach profitability.

Following the collapse of content-based sites such as TheStreet.co.uk, it seems making content pay, however hot it might be, has led to a lot of fingers getting burnt. eCountries demonstrated a model that seemed to work, by bringing together users with common interests then adding a transactional element, but it has proved hard to get funding.

Offering high-ticket items over the eCountries marketplace and quality content from a team of journalists headed up by Michael Elliot from Newsweek International, it seemed to be making the best of a content-based model. But with FT.com last week announcing plans to add new paid-for premium services to its existing free access, it's clear that new revenue streams aside from advertising are having to be explored by content sites.

Lotto luck It's on wet winter days that you really want someone to tell you that you should never buy your National Lottery ticket before Thursday night because you have more chance of being knocked down and killed by a bus than winning if you buy it before then. Still, the internet comes to the rescue once again.

Last week we had the news that French media giant Vivendi Universal had boosted its online gaming portfolio through the acquisition of Uproar for £96.6m in cash, incorporating into Flipside.com, Vivendi's games and entertainment website. Uproar operates family oriented games as well as a lottery website, not unlike French-based Bananalotto.co.uk and the recently launched Thedailydraw.com.

Getminted.com has just decided to get in on the action, too, by replacing its weekly draw, based on the National Lottery, with a daily draw. It saw Bananalotto.co.uk receive £7.6m in second-round funding at the end of last year and wants to offer advertisers the sort of traffic a daily draw can generate.

It is even promising the sort of jackpots you get in the US on sites such as Grab.com, which, according to research by Jupiter MMXI, leapt from being the 25th most popular site in the entertainment category to the third, thanks to a $1bn jackpot. A jackpot that UK users found they couldn't enter. Some mugs are still getting the e-mails from the mailing list you had to join in order to find out that you couldn't enter. Ahem.

What women want I'm not going to bang on about women's portals again, just because in the US iVillage.com has bought Women.com for £20.7m, throwing the whole question of how many women's sites can survive in the UK back into the ring.

But what about the men? As sites like handbag.com, beme.com, iVillage.co.uk and the recently launched femail.co.uk are beginning to look a bit different, there is still a nasty aftertaste that suggests that if its not called a women's portal it is by default a men's portal.

Apart from sports, cars and porn sites, the poor blokes only get lad's mags online, such as GQ.co.uk and Uploaded.com, and boys toys e-commerce sites such as Firebox.com. But they get it right by targeting a specific sort of man with a particular set of interests.

The idea that "women" are by definition all the same, whether they like sport, cooking, horoscopes, children or cars, or are 25 or 65 was always flawed. Beme.com has gone for Ali McBeal types, femail.co.uk for the older Daily Mail-reader, leaving handbag.com and iVillage.co.uk battling to become a useful resource for women online. They are beginning to realise that an audience is defined by its interests, be it making their entire life easier or finding out about the latest lipstick, not their gender. And that they shouldn't exclude anyone, even if they have size 11s and a penchant for Guinness.

Heroes and Villains With the Brit Awards just round the corner, we are entering the silly season of the awards ceremony (if we ever left it) and last week saw the ISPA (Internet Service Providers Association) hold its third successive Internet Industry Awards at the London Hilton on Park Lane.

Making the welcome address was the new government e-Envoy, Andrew Pinder, and he was a lot better than Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood, I'm told. Two new categories bought cheers and boos from the assembled crowd, with the crowning of Internet Villain and Internet Hero of the year.

Sir Peter Bonfield won the award for most villainous crimes against ISP-dom, for BT's suppression of unmetered and broadband internet access, and Gwyneth Paltrow ate her heart out as Web pioneer Tim Berners-Lee was awarded the hero gong for inventing the wheel.

UUNet won the overall best business ISP, Easynet scooped the award for best European ISP, ICScotland for best consumer ISP and BT Genie for best m-commerce service. Reports that Jarvis Cocker was spotted unplugging modems behind the stage were furiously denied by the organisers.

lisa.simmons@haynet.com

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