TV-Based Local Services Beat VoIP?

One way for the telcos to beat back free or cheap Voice over IP services (VoIP) is to get away from their sole focus on the phone and move to a feature-rich, Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) platform, complete with local directory, community and news services.

Amdocs, a leading telco integrator, certainly sees things this way. Amdocs Marketing Director Eitan Gelbaum said the key to winning the war with VoIP will be to transfrom the television into the family’s communications headquarters. He noted that 150 telcos worldwide have indicated that they’ll move to an IPTV platform within two or three years.

YellowPages.com: Focus is on Process

YellowPages.com, which was purchased by BellSouth and SBC SmartPages for $98 million last winter, has been largely silent on what to expect when it finally unveils its “supersite” this fall. Some, but not many, hints as to its activities were provided by CEO Charles Stubbs during his keynote address at The Kelsey Group’s Directory Driven Commerce show in Denver.

Most of the keynote was a cautious rundown of its business plan. Stubbs, who had previously headed BellSouth Intelliventures, noted that YellowPages.com remains relatively low on the totem pole “as print has an incredible value story. Electronic is complementary.”

Kelsey Show Review: YP Brands Can’t Compete

The Kelsey Group’s Directory Driven Commerce conference in Denver Sept. 27-29 saw Yellow Pages executives accepting that they’ll never have the brand power of a Google or a Yahoo. “The cat’s out of the bag,” said Dex CEO George Burnett. “We’ll never have the brand of the portals.”

Burnett could have gone further. He could have noted that Yellow Pages aren’t effectively reaching key demographic groups, have failed to prove that their Internet efforts have separate value; and suffer from a 20 percent decline in overall listings due to unlisted cellphone and VoIP numbers. More critically, they are barely enhancing their deep business profiles, which has been their unique advantage over the portals.

But Burnett and his Yellow Pages colleagues think differently. They tend to focus on their genuine success in keeping revenues up, even as usage has demonstrably gone down. Only by merging print lookups with IYP searches does the industry’s usage show growth.

Will Google Buy Yellow Book?

Yellow Book has clawed its way to a prominent role in the Yellow Pages industry, and has grabbed 50 percent of the market for Independent Yellow Pages publishers. Now it is rumored to be in takeover talks with Google.

Would Google go for it? To be sure, Yellow Book is compelling in a number of ways. It has a national footprint, increasing market share, strong leadership, a scrappy, non-union sales force – and hardly any preconceived Internet strategies.
Google could certainly leverage Yellow Book’s sales force. It is conceivable that the search company may soon hit a plateau with the number of advertisers willing to self-provision their own ads over the Web. Yellow Book’s feet-on-the- street would conceivably boost penetration, while upselling advertisers on a number of fronts.

Yellow Book CEO Joe Walsh is happy to fan the flames of such rumors. Speaking at Kelsey’s Directory Driven Commerce conference in Denver, Walsh noted that “in a lot of ways, a good Yellow Pages business complements a geo- and- search business. I’d be shocked if you don’t see partnerships happening. It just makes so much sense.”

eBay and Skype: The Classifieds Factor

Some analysts haven’t figured out Skype’s value to eBay. But I see it fairly plainly: classifieds. The classifieds industry appears to be on the verge of a freefall, due to services such as Craig’s List that don’t charge But with Skype in the picture, I see lots of “value add” that buyers and sellers would happily pay for.

Using Skype, which integrates Voice over IP phone and instant messaging, the unadorned text ads may still run free. But Skype potentially adds a lot of value by directly connecting sellers to buyers via Pay-Per-Call, while sending them more in-depth information at the same time.

The integration of Skype also helps close the loop in the transaction cycle. Currently, eBay transmits five million emails a day between its buyers and sellers, mostly for expensive goods like real estate or autos that are “involved” and “complex.” Skype’s instant messaging, voice mail and voice call services are likely to increase the volume of such communications, and also make them more universal.

Planet Discover Adds Gannett, Scripps

Planet Discover’s addition of Gannett and Scripps titles suggests that it is increasingly poised to breakout in the newspaper search space. The potential for newspaper search remains fairly good, as newspapers begin to compete more seriously against the Yellow Pages for search-oriented shopping and small business advertising.

For Planet Discover, the Scripps tie is especially interesting, as the parent company looks for ways to localize its new Shopzilla acquisition. Up to now, Scripps executives have solely focused on Shopzilla’s synergies with the conglomerate’s non-local cable properties, such as HGTV, The Food network and DIY.