Hey Jeeves! Should IAC Put CitySearch Under Ask?

Ask Local is a big component of IAC’s relaunch of Ask, and it should be, given the tons of quality local reviews, ratings, listings and other content that IAC’s CitySearch has to provide. Theoretically, it gives Ask a leg up over the other portals – and IAC Head Barry Diller has said as much.

But a question I’d put to the butler is why IAC doesn’t formally put CitySearch under the Ask umbrella. CitySearch, after all, has pretty good traffic from Google, MSN and other affiliates, reaching 14 million unique viewers, according to ComScore. It isn’t much of a brand, however, and it is unlikely to spend money to become one.

Probably, CitySearch could benefit from the massive amount of promotion that Ask is about to receive. After all, wasn’t it good when AOL retired Digital City to focus on AOL Local? Wasn’t it good that Yahoo decided to put everything under Yahoo Local instead of building Yahoo Yellow Pages, Yahoo Local Search etc.?

It isn’t as if Wall Street is telling IAC that it really values the separate CitySearch organization. In fact, The Street would probably be happier if IAC was able to find a legitimate buyer for the site (and if IAC would continue to simplify its structure). After all these years, CitySearch really doesn’t have that much synergy with other IAC properties. Basically, it gives some good leads to ServiceMagic, and provides fairly compelling online promotions to Entertainment Books, bypassing the local Boy Scout/Girl Scout/Rotary channels that usually supply them. And there is some marginal activity with Evite and TicketMaster as well. But that’s about it.

At this point, however, a CitySearch sale is definitely very difficult. Even though the site is profitable for the first time, and looking up, one imagines its heavy sunk costs would sink any deal.

Still, I can think of many reasons why CitySearch and Ask won’t be tying the knot anytime soon. Organizationally, it may not be as simple as it seems, although they’re both part of IAC’s newly-formed Media & Advertising unit. Ask has a lot of things on its plate as it takes on the other search behemoths, and wouldn’t want to get bogged down in such integration. CitySearch, for its part, wouldn’t want to jeopardize its affiliate relationships with the other portals – or lose its increasingly intense focus on local retail relationships.

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