Yahoo! Looks for European Lonely Hearts

Yahoo announced on Wednesday the launch of personals sites in three European markets, adding to its array of international dating services.

Yahoo’s personals are now available, via local sites, in the United Kingdom and Ireland, France, and Germany. The portal has already ramped up local dating sites in Canada, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The move to expand its personals business into Europe comes as Yahoo attempts to expand its successful turnaround in the United States into its operations abroad. Its online dating services have been a major driver of revenue, helping the company greatly diversify its business from the advertising-dependant model inherited by CEO Terry Semel.

Last quarter, Yahoo took in $63.7 million in revenues from fees, such as dating, a 61 percent increase from a year earlier. Fee-based services made up 22 percent of the company’s revenues.

Yahoo’s dating services and its DSL offering with SBC Communications have accounted for the lion’s share of the growth. According to online measurement firm HitWise, Yahoo Personals and Match.com are neck and neck in drawing traffic to their sites.

Yahoo has tabbed personals, along with search, as one of its key areas to promote and advertise. In March, the company launched an ad blitz for its dating service that included a TV spot during the Oscars ceremony.

Semel has said that he views all of Yahoo’s successes in the U.S. as eventual candidates to be expanded abroad. For example, the company has moved paid listings, which brought in more than $120 million for the company last year, to a number of its international sites.

“Yahoo’s advantages, of course, are the reach of its site [and] its ability to market it within its internal network at low cost to increase its online dating subscriber base,” said Olivier Beauvillain, a Paris-based analyst with Jupiter Research, which is owned by the parent company of this site.

Online dating is a robust market, worth an estimated $313 million this year, according to Jupiter Research. By 2007, the market is forecast to be $607 million. In Europe, Jupiter estimates online personals will be worth $47 million this year and $138 million by 2007.

Beauvillain said Yahoo would face competition from its domestic rival, Match.com, which has recently made inroads in Europe. The European online dating market also has local players, such as Meetic in France, and services from European portals, like Lycos.

Last week, Yahoo beefed up its international team by hiring John Marcom as senior vice president for international operations. Marcom, a former head of the Financial Times in the Americas, will take his post next month.

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