The Motley Fool: A chat-up line from 365

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The Independent Online
After an initial summer rush followed by a quiet autumn, it looks as if the internet flotation bandwagon is starting to pick up speed again. This time it is the 365 Corporation that has taken to the pitch. In an impressive stock market debut last week, the company's share price quickly soared to a premium.

Foolish investors would never invest in a company without knowing what it does, so what does 365 do? It is most famous for its sports-related websites but its interests spread further. There are two principal parts: the consumer division and the business division. The consumer side is dominated by internet services, the business division is more of a telecommunications service provider.

The consumer division consists of the group's various websites, its email services and its telephone chat lines: 365 is attempting to build up as many users as it can and as quickly as possible. It thinks the process will be accelerated by using a variety of platforms. It is concentrating on football, rugby and cricket.

Editorial content includes Football365, CricInfo365 (a joint venture with CricInfo) covering cricket, and Rugby365, the newest of the three sporting sites. Music365 provides music and ticket purchase services, together with a number of lifestyle services.

The business division is quite different. It targets small and medium- sized enterprises normally defined as companies with fewer than 250 employees. The division, created by the acquisition of Symphony Telecom in February, provides voice and data network access, telephone systems, internet access and related services.

By September 1999, 365's business division had 2,170 customers. It was handling 10 million call-minutes a month, and growing fast (though it is way behind the big players as yet).

But what about the valuation of 365 and where is its income going to come from? It is the internet services aspect of 365 that excites investors most. At the Motley Fool there are five main income streams we look at with internet companies. We call them the five Cs.

The first C is "Connection": 365's consumer division does not offer connection facilities (that is, it provides no ISP services). So, unlike Freeserve for example, there is no revenue from connection charges.

Second comes "Commercials". An area of great potential for 365. Online advertising will grow in line with the spread of internet use and the growth of e-commerce. Fletcher Research predicts that the UK online advertising market will grow from pounds 15m in 1998 to pounds 479m in 2002.

C number three is "Commerce", and that means directly selling things. There isn't really anything on offer just yet, but maybe we'll see auctions of sports-related memorabilia one day? Or online sales of big match tickets?

The fourth C is "Content", by which we mean directly paid-for content, and it is all free at the moment. If 365 attracts a loyal user base, it might have the chance of offering paid services later, but there has been no hint of anything yet.

And finally "Community". At the Motley Fool, we believe that building a strong community is a powerful tool for any internet company, but then we would say that. Most of 365's sites offer chat room facilities, and the quality of discussion looks a bit variable so far.

Looking at the financial side of internet companies is a bit of a spectator sport these days. It often appears that those making the biggest losses are the most popular with investors!

But, at first sight, 365 looks to be making a profit. It reported an operating profit of pounds 277,000 for the three months ending June. But that is all from the business division (or Symphony Telecom as is was previously known). Symphony itself produced an operating profit of pounds 0.7m in the previous quarter. But 365's internet operations are gobbling up cash.

No figures for the three months to September 1999 have been published yet, which seems like a curious omission.

In mid-October 365 had cash of pounds 6.9m. Another pounds 50m from this week's flotation will go towards future development.

So what does the future hold? Coverage of more sports, such as Formula One, and online sports betting is also on the cards. Watch out for more lifestyle, health and fitness content too, and even a business 365 site is around the corner.

So is 365 a good buy? That's a tough one. Better make up your own minds, Fools.