Mozilla Killa: Netscape, Give It Away, & Grow

Like Jack Nicholson we’re wondering if Netscape Communications has seen
“as good as it gets” as in better days? With the software war with
Microsoft clearly going
against it, perhaps a new direction (or an old one ignored) may be in order.

Emphasis on “Communications” could provide some much-needed energy into a
Mozilla that hardly seems able to scale tall buildings anymore in the
entrenched battle to gain desktop leverage. But we think part of the future
may lie in communications, not computer code.

Anecdotal evidence arrives via Netscape’s announcement January 5 that its
fourth quarter will be a money loser to the tune of about $89 million. On
that dismal prospect Netscape (NASDAQ:NSCP) shares fell, in large
voluminous chunks on NASDAQ, more than 20% to $18.56 each.

Granted, some $52 million was for nonrecurring merger-related charges,
while an
additional $35 million went for restructuring. Excluding charges Netscape
said it would post a loss between $14 million to $18 million. Either way
the run for the exits was a stampede.

Our analysis shows NSCP trading at 3x 1997 estimated revenue. As for
price-to-earnings, the Warren Buffet school of low ratios is not likely to
put it on its list of favorites anytime soon. If ever.

All of which highlights Netscape’s apparently losing battle with a product,
Internet Explorer, given away by its rival Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). You
cannot compete with free giveaways. And you cannot cry foul if you also
built your
business on giving away your own product free, Navigator, but now charge for
it since it’s a large part of revenue–about 13%.

Despite the best laid plans of lice and lawyers (or mice and men), the
Department of Justice trying to stop Microsoft seems to be akin to a
porch full of banjo players trying to stop Burt Reynolds from filming
“Deliverance.” Wrong set and wrong battle.

Microsoft’s been tweaking software for 20 years, has billions to toss
around and an installed base to boot, and knows the tune. Internetizing its
Office application suite is threat enough to anyone in the Internet
software game, let alone popping
out a browser melody.

Netscape’s Numbers: Up?

Shares outstanding
x share price Nov 5 $18.56
= Market
Sales and
4Q 1997 revenue
4Q 1997 loss
4Q 1997 loss per share
4Q 1997 loss excluding
non-recurring costs
4Q 1997 loss per share
without costs
Projected 1997
Projected 1997 loss -$115.00
Estimated 1997 earnings
excluding costs
Estimated 1997 EPS excluding
Market cap/1997

Price/non-cost EPS
Price/1998 EPS if growth @

Note: All figures
in millions except share price
EPS and
© 1998
Mecklermedia Corp.

While we have believed for quite some time in the built-in leverage that
Netscape enjoys, we’re waiting for ample evidence that the emperor knows
he’s still clothed.

The short answer: Netscape may have a greater chance at
being a powerful media company along the lines of AOL and Internet
navigation hubs Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO), Lycos (NASDAQ:LCOS), and Excite
(NASDAQ:XCIT). Content is the ultimate software.

We estimate total Netscape browser users at about 20 million. That’s twice
as many
subscribers to AOL. On a daily basis MediaMetrix reports Netscape unique
users in the 11 million range, making it number three on the Web behind
Yahoo! and Microsoft.

Yet Yahoo!’s market cap is much higher than NSCP because there are no apparent
bulldozers or steamrollers roaring in its path as in Microsoft vs.
Netscape. We think the Yahoo!, Lycos, and Excite battles with Redmond are
to come, however, as Microsoft, which just acquired HotMail, already has
WebTV, and buys into cable, keeps reinventing itself as a content company.
(Expect $1 billion investment in world’s largest cable operator TCI any day

Netscape’s early lead in 1995 was based on a free browser. Download it and
you were on your way. That ploy revolutionized the Internet and software
industry more than any other and paved the way for “free” services from the
entire content sector, many new software startups, and opened up
advertising as
a way for companies on the Web to produce revenue, as well as much much more.

So perhaps Netscape must return to its roots and stop playing Microsoft
wanna-be. AOL may have it the best by selling its membership base to
value-added marketers. Tel-Save plopped down $100 million to market its
long-distance services to AOLers. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Intuit, CUC,
Travelocity, all pay millions to reach members of it and various Web

What does it mean? Netscape as a “communications” company in the media
sense of the word, offering free email, discounted IP telephony, membership
benefits for e-commerce, travel services, etc. Group affinities together
and create communities of

The browser is the pretty face, the real estate. The browser is
Netscape. Build a business model around the millions of users that are
already there.

Three words to Netscape’s future if it wants to get beyond critical mass
into e-business chain reaction: Give it away.

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