BT takes on Yellow Pages but ends the purple patch of Scoot

Clayton Hirst
Tuesday 19 November 2013 05:54

BT is to launch a direct challenge this week to Yellow Pages, the directories business it sold a year ago for £2.1bn.

Pierre Danon, head of BT Retail, will say on Tuesday that online directories company Scoot, which BT acquired last month, will be the basis for the company's push.

But the Scoot name and branding and its purple-headed man will go the same way as ITV Digital and its floppy monkey mascot.

While the Scoot name has become well-established through a heavy marketing campaign, in business circles it has become a byword for internet excess, hype and controversy.

Built up by the flash Dutchman Robert Bonnier, Scoot was worth £2bn at its peak in 2001. But the company became smothered by mounting debts and was bought by BT for just £5m.

Despite the loss of the name, BT will announce that Scoot's managing director, Terry Martin, who replaced Mr Bonnier, will stay on to develop BT's online directories business.

The news will be a blow to Yell, the holding company for Yellow Pages now owned by venture capitalists Apax Partners and Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst.

The company was forced to pull plans to float on the London Stock Exchange last month due to the turbulent market conditions. It is understood that Yell hopes to try again for a listing, possibly in the autumn, but details of BT's plans could dent investor confidence.

As well as announcing the company's strategy on directories, Mr Danon will give details on BT's directory enquiries operation.

BT is being forced to open up its "192" services to competition later this year and already telecoms regulator Oftel has allocated the new numbers for enquiry services.

Mr Danon is expected to say that the price for using BT's directory services, which in future will be accessed by dialling "118500", will remain at 40p a call.

Yell is also planning to launch a rival directory enquiry service. It intends to team up with an established operator. Other companies planning to compete with BT include German operators Telegate and Conduit.

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