Overture Signs CNN Web Sites

With Google nipping at its heels, paid search leader Overture announced Wednesday it had signed a three-year exclusive deal to provide paid search listings for three CNN sites: CNN.com, CNNSI.com, and CNNMoney.com.

The deal, the terms of which were not disclosed, calls for the CNN sites to implement custom search boxes on their home pages, section fronts, and story pages. Overture will provide five commercial results at the top of the results page. The three sites boast a combined monthly unique visitor audience of 29 million.

“CNN wanted to do commercial search, since a lot of people are using CNN.com for their homepage,” said Bill Demas, Overture’s senior vice president and general manager of affiliate business. “They looked carefully at Google and Overture. They decided to go with Overture.” He called the deal “a big win over Google.”

Demas said Overture’s services would be implemented by the end of the month.

Prior to the deal, the CNN sites did not provide paid search results. The deal does not include the other nine sites of the CNN Web network, including its eight international sites.

Overture has been under increased pressure in the past year, as search engine giant Google has entered the paid listings market. In February, Google nabbed former Overture client EarthLink, showing it would be a viable competitor. Three months later, Google scored a major coup, securing the search services of CNN sister company AOL. In July, Google signed up another Overture client, Ask Jeeves.

Still, Overture is the clear leader in the space, having deals with top portals Yahoo and MSN. The company claims 73,000 advertisers, including the likes of Dell and Barnes & Noble, and forecasts $658 million in 2002 revenue.

With the major portals and search sites sewn up, Overture has taken a broader view of the search market, looking to tap into the 60 to 65 percent of search that it estimates don’t yet feature paid listings, including search on news and information sites. In May, the company extended its contract with technology-focused site CNET

“News is one vertical where it could be a really good fit,” Demas said.

Lately, the two companies have both eyed the growing market for paid-search services in Europe and Asia. In Asia, Overture and Google recently agreed to both provide paid listings for Yahoo Japan, that country’s dominant portal, for six months. That announcement preceded Overture’s announcement yesterday that it had officially launched its operations in Japan. Meanwhile, Overture’s agreement with Freeserve, Britain’s top Internet service provider, expired last week. The agreement stipulates an automatic two-month extension, giving Overture more time to negotiate a long-term deal. Google is also bidding for Freeserve’s business.

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