Diller Talks Up CitySearch

IAC/Interactive Corp. Chairman Barry Diller generally downplays CitySearch during analyst calls, preferring to focus on brighter stories among IAC’s portfolio of companies, such as TicketMaster, Lending Tree and until recently, Expedia.

But at a Goldman Sachs’ investor conference on Sept. 22, Diller surprisingly devoted more time to CitySearch than IAC’s other companies. He noted that CitySearch is now operating in the black, and has seen a rise in monthly unique users from eight million in 2003 to 23 million today.

Diller’s positive comments reinforce outward confidence in the division by IAC, including its recent move to the new IAC west coast headquarters in West Hollywood, and its recruitment of high level executives to work under CEO Briggs Ferguson.

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.

IAC Moves into Real Estate Brokerages

Barry Diller’s IAC/Interactive is saying that it intends to become a full service Real Estate provider next year, operating brokerages in the Pacific Northwest.

The announcement might be seen as a strange one, since IAC hasn’t settled on whether it will buy or build the brokerages. But it hints at IAC’s wide ranging ambitions in Real Estate, where it already owns Lendingtree.com, which shops for the cheapest mortgage; and RealEstate.com, which provides leads to Realtors in exchange for “soft” consumer kickbacks and a piece of the action.

For IAC, the move into owning brokerages would theoretically complete its Real Estate loop, at least to the extent permissible under today’s regulations, which prevent banks from directly participating in sales.

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.

Estimating Online Revenues for Newspapers

eMarketer is out with a new forecast for online newspaper revenues, which is is unreliable but basically in line with prior efforts from The NAA(very optimistic) and Borrell Associates Inc. (fairly optimistic).

For the record, we note here that eMarketer is saying that newspapers made $1.03 billion in 2004 and predicts that they will make $1.4 billion in 2005. NAA hasn’t forecast its 2005 numbers yet, but said that newspapers made $1.5 billion in 2004. It found that newspapers made $500 million in Q2, so newspapers would be theoretically in line to surpass $2 million for the year. Borrell reported $1.19 billion for 2004 and forecasts $1.52 billion this year.