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NBC Turns to Overture for Paid Search

NBC announced a partnership yesterday to display paid search results from Overture Services on NBC.com and BravoTV.com as part of an overhaul of the sites' search services.

Under the two-year deal, NBC.com and BravoTV.com will display up to three Overture listings on some searches under a “sponsored listings” heading. The Overture results complement site search powered by SLI Systems and e-commerce offers from ShopNBC.

The NBC deal is a boost for Overture's distribution network after two partners, Lycos and T-Online, moved to dump Overture because of its merger with Yahoo. Last week, Lycos filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against Overture and replaced its listings with those from rival Google.

“I feel excited with where our network is now,” said Bill Demas, senior vice president and general manager of Overture's partner business. “We continue to show strength in the media and publishing space.”

Financial details of the deal were not disclosed, but Overture and its partners typically split revenue generated from advertisers each time a user clicks on a paid listing. Overture's advertiser network tops 100,000.

News publishers have turned to paid search as a source of revenue. Overture has distribution deals with three major CNN Web properties and ESPN.com. News sites like NYTimes.com and washingtonpost.com display Google paid listings.

NBC.com and BravoTV.com will make up a small portion of Overture's distribution, which relies heavily on Yahoo and MSN. In September, the two NBC sites drew a combined 4 million unique visitors, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.

Though Yahoo executives said the Overture acquisition was not dependent on retaining Overture's distribution partners, Overture has worked to maintain its partnerships. The company won an injunction in a German court in September after T-Online replaced its listings with Google's three weeks earlier. However, the German Internet service provider was allowed to switch once the Yahoo-Overture deal closed Oct. 7. It now uses Google for its paid search.

Despite the action by T-Online and Lycos, Overture extended its distribution agreement with its most important partner, MSN, through June 2005. Analysts think MSN eventually will replace Overture with a homegrown paid listings product.

“From our perspective, it's been business as usual for us working with partners,” Demas said.

As part of the search overhaul, NBC turned to technology from SLI Systems that suggests alternative searches for users and learns from their behavior. For instance, an NBC.com search for “Friends” yields Web pages from the site, along with suggestions like “new episodes of Friends” and “Friends photo gallery.” Overture results do not appear for all searches.

NBC owns 20 percent of the San Francisco-based search company, which formerly powered search for NBC's ill-fated Internet venture, NBCi. NBC sold the search technology to SLI when it folded NBCi back into the network in December 2001. The Excite Network recently signed a deal to use SLI's Related Search technology on its iWon portal.

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