Network Solutions, AOL Ink Marketing Deal

In a bid to remain the top player in the domain name registration business, Network Solutions Inc. on Monday inked a multi-year, multi-million dollar marketing agreement with America Online Inc., which lets visitors to AOL’s properties register domain names through its sites.

Although the two companies declined to reveal the exact value of the deal, it’s likely to be an expensive one — as are most so-called “portal deals” — so this represents a bet by Network Solutions (NSI) that the agreement will be worth its high cost.

It’s not a new strategy for Network Solutions, which, in March, agreed to be acquired by VeriSign Inc. The company has long believed in top-tier portal deals, while rivals like Register.com have forged second-tier and vertical portal agreements. Network Solutions in March inked a two-year deal with Microsoft; in February it signed with AltaVista; and in November it expanded its relationship with Yahoo

“NSI and AOL are global leaders, and together, we will help countless small businesses and individuals make a name for themselves on the Internet,” said Jim Rutt, chief executive officer of Network Solutions.

“We are delighted to enter into this global alliance and continue to extend the Network Solutions brand.”

Rather than being intimidated by the deal, Register.com says it’s pleased, slamming top-tier portal deals as unjustifiably expensive.

“It was something we could never justify in a million years, from a financial perspective,” said Sascha Mornell, vice president of sales and marketing for Register.com.

“I think that this is something that’s fantastic for our business. It means Network Solutions is spending a bundle of money in one place, at AOL. And it means AOL is not ever going to get into the domain registration space.”

When the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) opened up domain registration to companies other than Network Solutions, AOL was one of the early players accredited to register domains. But the company has never emerged as a major player in the space.

The new deal will make Network Solutions’ services available through co-branded sites across AOL’s properties — AOL, AOL.com, CompuServe, Netscape Netcenter, Digital City, ICQ, and Spinner/Winamp, including the international services.

Members of, and visitors to, AOL’s properties will be able to register domains, and access Network Solutions’ other services like Web site design.

The company’s pending acquisition by VeriSign hasn’t been forgotten in the deal. VeriSign’s security services will be promoted across AOL’s business channel.

The AOL/Network Solutions co-branded sites will also promote AOL’s business services, including the Netscape Business Directory, which will include data from NSI.

NSI has also agreed to distribute a co-branded version of Netscape Instant Messenger.

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