Ready Set. Go!

With the launch of a new portal, Infoseek CEO Harry Motro is hitching the company wagons to Disney’s star. Question is, will anybody?

Maty Berkowitz wheels his office chair behind a screen and warms to his pitch: “We’re building a portal that really empowers people in their daily lives, by combining the freedom to reach the Web with the power to control it…”

Berkowitz is the new general manager of the Go Network, the Disney-backed portal launched in mid-January by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Infoseek. Mouse in hand, he glides the cursor over what he extols as one of the new site’s most novel features-”follow-me” tabs that will allow millions of new users worldwide to roam for news or shop for products within a site without losing their place inside the network.

“With Go, we’re taking the promise of the Internet, which is to turn information into action…”

Click, beep. Click, beep. No go: Only error messages are following the follow-me tabs on this day.

But by now-just a few weeks into a much-awaited public launch-those tabs better be working. Berkowitz isn’t just another vice president at a fourth- or fifth-ranked search engine; he’s responsible for the day-to-day operations of this new “brand powerhouse” portal, backed by Michael Eisner’s Walt Disney Company, which has designs on leapfrogging the Internet’s media elite-Yahoo!, America Online, Microsoft, and Excite.
Search engine
Among pure search portals (excluding AOL and Netscape), Infoseek ranks third in daily page views with 14 million, behind Yahoo! (74 million) and Excite (23 million), based on RevelantKnowledge data for October 1998.

That’s the impression you get, anyway, when you listen to Jake Winebaum and Harry Motro, the cool and confident executive duo running the new Go Network, talk about the future of their new multimillion-dollar toy. The network, what now might be considered Hollywood’s biggest beachhead on the Web, is the offspring of a blockbuster deal consummated last June, when Disney Online chief Winebaum negotiated Disney’s 43 percent acquisition of Infoseek and hammered out an agreement to combine resources to build a next-generation, top-tier Internet portal.

There’s no mistaking what’s on the line with the launch of Go. “The entire fate of this company is tied to the alliance with Disney and the long-term success of this network,” says Motro in his southern drawl, thumping the table in his office at Infoseek’s corporate headquarters. As president and CEO of a struggling middle-ranked portal since mid-1997, he’s hitching the company’s wagon-and much of its roughly $1.5 billion in stock-to Disney’s star and hoping for the best.

On paper at least, the new site looks to have major-portal potential. Go includes Infoseek’s search engine and navigation services; Disney-owned ABC, ABC News, and ESPN, and each of their corresponding online channels; major sports and entertainment sites,, and Mr. Showbiz; and all the rest of Disney Online’s properties, including leading online shopping channel and kids’ site, and established family channel

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