Netscape to Push TV Show, Web E-mail Service

AOL Time Warner unit Netscape Communications is rolling out a new promotion ostensibly in support of a new TV program airing on The WB network — but which also serves to boost its own brand.

Through the deal, Mountain View, Calif.-based Netscape’s eponymous Web portal will host an email based sweepstakes promoting the new WB show “Dead Last.”

Launching this week, the contest aims to build buzz around the show’s August 14th pilot by offering prizes like a trip for two to Hollywood and a walk-on role on a WB show.

To enter the sweepstakes, Internet users must register for an account on Netscape’s free, Web email service, WebMail. (Existing WebMail users can click on an icon on the site.) Once users have registered, participants will receive a weekly email containing a link to earn an entry into the contest.

The contest will be promoted throughout AOL Time Warner’s online properties, including banners on its AOL Instant Messenger application and elsewhere. The ads link back to Netscape’s WebMail.

In addition to the sweepstakes promotion, which concludes in late September, Netscape.com will host “Dead Last”-related content, advertising and so on.

“We are always happy when we find unique ways to reach these fans in a television landscape that has become more and more competitive,” said Lewis Goldstein, a co-president of marketing at The WB Television Network.

While the promotion itself is interesting, the sweepstakes also give some insight on how AOL is hoping to boost Netscape’s prominence as a Web portal, similar to Yahoo, Terra Lycos, or Microsoft’s MSN.

Netscape, of course, is the pioneer behind the Internet’s first commercial Web browser, Navigator, for which it established the Netcenter Web portal. But since its acquisition by America Online (now cross-media behemoth AOL Time Warner) in 1998, Netscape’s consumer brand has taken something of a ill-defined back seat to AOL’s flagship service.

That loss of identity quickened with the decline of Navigator, largely outgunned by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer in the so-called “browser wars” of the late 90s. As a result, the company’s Netscape.com home page entered the new millennium as what looked to be a neglected, vaguely positioned portal.

But now, while AOL Time Warner is rumored to be beefing up efforts to promote new versions of Netscape Navigator (by making Nagivator the default America Online browser instead of Internet Explorer,) the media giant also is aiming for Netscape.com to make a comeback among consumers.

In essence, the company perceives Netscape.com (minus the name “Netcenter”) operating as a Web portal in tandem with its own America Online brand — with AOL’s proprietary online service on one hand, and Netscape’s Web-based services on the other.

“We’re creating products for Internet users not in the AOL universe,” said spokesman Josh Danson, adding that Netscape.com and WebMail serves the Web’s “a la carte audience, who like to create their own Internet experience.”

The timing of the promotional effort couldn’t be better. The push to reinvigorate Netscape comes amid growing tensions in AOL’s rivalry with software giant-cum-Web media giant Microsoft — an enmity that lately has seen the two battling over hot areas like desktop icon placement.

In one show of support for the site, much of Netscape.com recently underwent a major “look-and-feel” redesign. That effort, in addition to the signup promotion, came just weeks after Microsoft similarly retooled its own Hotmail email service.

Additionally, links to WebMail and other Netscape online services appear on most AOL-owned Web properties, such as Time.com, SportsIllustrated.CNN.com, and others.

Netscape spokespeople declined to explicitly categorize WebMail as AOL’s answer to Microsoft’s Hotmail — or the entire Netscape.com service as rival to MSN — though they did admit the effort was part of a larger marketing push to highlight Netscape and WebMail.

Instead, Danson described the promotions as “just another way to provide more choice to Internet users. We’re just concerned with getting the product out there and getting more users excited about this.”

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