Eat, drink, and be merry. Seems simple enough in the terrestrial world, anchored by newspapers.
Research for an upcoming Outsell HotTopics on users’ changing news consumption habits shows that newspapers’ entertainment and event planning franchise is still quite healthy - with more than 50 percent of Americans still turning to print newspapers for entertainment planning. In fact, newspapers are their primary choice. Many readers use the Friday tab entertainment sections and are conditioned to find everything from local concerts to yoga sessions in calendars throughout the paper.
On the Web, several competitors have aimed to use the Internet’s interactive abilities to peel back that newspaper franchise. While early ones have had limited impact, Yahoo!’s new entertainment browser promises - and threatens - to have a greater one. In beta with no announced release date, it should realize the vision of that first do-it-better-than-newspapers site, Sidewalk.
Bill Gates' Sidewalk awed the publishing world in 1997 when it vowed to revolutionize entertainment delivery on the Web, hiring impressive editing talent from the country's newsrooms, staffing up in numerous cities, and presenting semi-database-driven, best-bets-oriented listings. Sidewalk foundered because of its labor-heavy staffing (it failed to partner with newspapers, which already collected most of the data) and its lack of a business model, which paid search would eventually provide.
Later, City Search, which bought Sidewalk’s remains, established itself as a reliable, if thin, site, whose clear purpose was to sell tickets through its sister Ticketmaster site.
Yahoo!’s new product is built on the base of Upcoming.com, which it bought last year. A large map dominates the opening page, putting users and their cities first and foremost. AJAX mapping (which Google Maps wows users with) is central.
Users pick a part of the city, an entertainment type - museums, art, movies, etc. - and a date range, using a handy calendar, and they're off to the races. With the fun of AJAX, they can see the info literally move with their desires.
Though the beta is sparse in areas and lacks some intuitiveness in how users set parameters, we can see where this is going:
- Yahoo! will layer on user-generated reviews and comments, in line with its new social media religion.
- Mapping and directions take users to events, incorporating the best of modern mapping and surfacing nearby restaurants.
- Movie times and ticketing will be a click away.
- Ticketing overall will be offered, as the primary (Ticketmaster) and secondary (eBay, StubHub) markets mingle and merge.
- All will be contextualized and personalized, as Yahoo! connects up its dots of Yahoo! 360 (networking), My Yahoo! (personalization), and My Web (saved and sharable searches and search results).
- Yahoo! Local contains user restaurant reviews, but requires too many clicks to find them. We expect this connection to get quicker and easier.
This innovation has been long in coming, and users will quickly adapt to it and share it virally. Young users, already fueling their own informal, casual entertainment sites like San Francisco-based Yelp.com, will lead the way. For news companies, the best route is to understand how Yahoo! and fellow tools wizards will dominate the user experience in entertainment.
If users make the Yahoo! site a habit for planning their weekends and leisure time, it will be just one more case where newspaper companies cede a franchise that sustained their print operations for decades.
Why? There's a lot of money around entertainment: ads for movies, restaurants, concerts, clubs, and more. On the Web, add ticketing and reservations and you have two new revenue sources, potential upsides for traditional publishers.
As it moves online, all that revenue will follow the users. And in Outsell's opinion, the users will like what they see in Yahoo!'s new product.
Most local Web sites, produced by newspaper companies, have failed to capture their local users' imagination. Outsell research shows that only 15 percent of Americans use online newspaper sites for entertainment planning, a fifth choice after print newspapers, TV, word-of-mouth, and radio.
Why? Too many serve old restaurant review data or make it too hard to find what's happening where, and where the best events are. Many online entertainment sections pale in comparison to Friday print sections, unable to port over systematically and dynamically all the information their newsrooms gather.
And most have failed to harness the value of local interaction, comment, and sharing of reviews.
A few exceptions exist, models publishers should look to. The Chicago Tribune's Metromix, now being exported to Baltimore and Orlando by parent Tribune Company, has proven to be one of the most durable, comprehensive local city guide/entertainment sites. The Washington Post's City Guide also has excelled, deftly including critics' and users' comments.
As beta becomes reality, Outsell affiliate analyst Ken Doctor believes publishers face the following challenges:
- Harness their valuable entertainment data - making sure it's tagged properly with meta-data and easily exportable - so that they can strike good content licensing deals with the Yahoo!s. This needs to be done quickly, before the entertainment browser moves onto a phone near you.
- Build on a platform such as Metromix's to add the kind of functionalities Yahoo! is adding, and syndicate that platform among publishers. This alternative enables maintaining and growing relationships with local entertainment-oriented advertisers. Make it easy for users - and travelers - to move between cities.
- Partner with Yahoo! (or any other emerging next-gen entertainment browser) to co-brand a product for local markets, gaining full functionality and pouring local content into it.
- Build new revenue streams by licensing entertainment content to the aggregators, both desktop and mobile.
- Maintain and grow relationships with local entertainment advertisers as best possible, either by improving local sites or striking deals with the aggregators to sell into their products.
- Most importantly, get beyond the mid-'90s browse-oriented entertainment products that are up on too many sites.
- Lastly, on the M&A level, learn how Yahoo! has taken an acquisition and integrated it smartly into its core business.