AltaVista Co., a no-frills Internet search engine, will undergo radical surgery today in its bid to become a full-fledged consumer media company offering live news updates and comparison-shopping tools.
Three months before its planned public stock offering, AltaVista is kicking off a $120 million advertising campaign that over the next 10 months will depict "AltaVista Live!" as one of the Internet's more sophisticated, frequently updated portals.
The company, based in Palo Alto, Calif., began as a technology showcase for Digital Equipment Corp. and changed ownership nearly two years ago after Digital was taken over by Compaq Computer Corp. Compaq, in turn, sold an 83 percent share of AltaVista in July to CMGI Inc., a Massachusetts holding company that buys chunks of World Wide Web sites and tries to link them together.
AltaVista's Web traffic has lagged behind Yahoo Inc., Lycos Inc. and other portals that have added services to become more than search engines.
As AltaVista adds features today, the change likely to draw the most attention is its around-the-clock news and entertainment programming, including real-time stock quotes and play-by-play accounts of sports. It is partnering with The Washington Post, ZDNet and a host of other companies to gain editorial content.
AltaVista's redesigned home page in some ways resembles an online newspaper, with a large photo and list of headlines. Its modular layout, though, is designed to let users create a personalized page by mixing and matching blocks of content, including live Webcams and video.
"This is a strong, new, forward-thinking network," AltaVista President Rod Schrock said in an interview. "We are offering an all-new user experience."
Aimed at veteran Web surfers, AltaVista's new search system indexes more sites and its own pages are designed to hold 40 percent more advertising, Schrock said.