Citysearch, San Diego Union-Tribune End Ties

The San Diego Union-Tribune has used Citysearch as the default city guide for its SignOnSanDiego Web site since 1999. The arrangement, one of several Citysearch struck with newspapers in that time period, gave The UT exclusive rights to sell Citysearch advertising in San Diego and also gave it default traffic whenever someone types in "San Diego" on the Citysearch home page. In return, Citysearch received licensing fees, the use of restaurant reviews and other UT/SignOn content, and some revenue share.

Such deals saw Citysearch through some lean times when it couldn't count on advertising revenues. But now Citysearch has gone in a different direction, choosing to own localized sites in every major market across the U.S. (with the exception of Washington, D.C., where The Washington Post bought exclusivity from Citysearch in perpetuity).

Come Oct. 31, The UT will launch its own homegrown city guide. Already, the two longtime partners have started selling against each other. Citysearch publicly announced its presence to the San Diego ad community a couple of weeks ago at a rooftop party for media and advertisers in the historic Gaslamp district. It also announced a new local media partner: San Diego, an upscale city magazine.

We talked to Chris Jennewein, The UT's VP for new media, about the change's impact on his company. Jennewein noted that both sides have felt increasingly constricted in their relationship. The UT hadn't been in any hurry to end the deal, however, because the switching costs were high.

Now that the break has finally occurred, Jennewein said The UT is eager to develop a truly local service that will stand out against Citysearch's "national" approach. "They have a completely different model," he said.

The new UT entertainment guide will be Open Source and will use zope.com as its primary vendor. It will also have "plenty of bells and whistles" that weren't possible using the Citysearch platform, including the integration of SignOn's new Internet radio station, and Flash audio-visual.

The end of the Citysearch deal means users won't default to SignOn from Citysearch's home page anymore. But Jennewein said that will have a negligible impact on SignOn's traffic. It accounts for "less than 1 percent" of his entertainment guide's traffic, he noted. Most of SignOn's traffic from outside the area is generated from search engines.

As to whether he is worried about Citysearch's competing sales force, Jennewein said only that he "is worried about every competitor, large and small." But SignOn is on pace for record growth in usage and advertisers.

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