Overture Signs United Online

Paid-listings search engine Overture is indicating that it’s still very much in the game, signing a renewal deal to provide search results to ISP United Online .

Extending a deal signed last February with NetZero — which merged with New York-based rival Juno in September — Pasadena, Calif.-based Overture now will provide search results to both units of the combined company through 2004.

Based on the old agreement, NetZero will continue using Overture’s listings as the search results for its landing page or its software, while the engine will power Juno’s search results for the first time in May. The ISP reports more than 5.6 million active users, and recently signed a broadband deal with Comcast , designed to expand its reach.

Terms were not disclosed of the transaction with Overture, though Westlake Village, Calif.-based United Online most likely will receive a percentage of the cost-per-click revenue generated from the listings.

“We are pleased to now be the exclusive keyword search provider to United Online,” said John Gentry, who is senior vice president and general manager, affiliate business group at Overture. “We will continue to provide our high-quality search results to the users of leading Internet access brands NetZero and Juno.”

The agreement, like last week’s deal with Hewlett-Packard , comes as good news for Overture, amid a string of foreboding developments. Despite being established as the market leader for pay-for-placement search engines, Overture has in recent months has faced increasing competition from longtime rivals LookSmart and FindWhat as well as new pressure from recent entrant Google.

In January, Google took over Overture’s contract with ISP Earthlink , following the arrangement’s expiration. In recent months, Mountain View, Calif.-based Google also began charging on a cost-per-click basis for its ads, similarly to the other players, and began distribution to Terra Lycos’s Canadian portal Sympatico as well as to AOL Time Warner’s CompuServe site on a test basis.

Earlier this month, Overture slapped Google with a patent infringement lawsuit.

The threat from San Francisco-based LookSmart has increased in recent months through its purchase of new search engine technology — which it says will make its results more appealing to users and more targeted for advertisers — and its introduction of a new pricing method that’s expected to generate higher revenue from small business clients.

New York-based FindWhat, like Overture, also recently began posting a profit from its business, and like Google, also is being sued by Overture.

Overture also is facing the expiration of a pair of significant deals. Its contract with Yahoo! is up for renewal at the end of the quarter, and the portal’s chief executive, Terry Semel, has said that the site has the capability to develop its own paid listings solution. Overture’s rivals also could be picked to take over the contract — and Google already powers Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo!’s unpaid search results.

In addition to Yahoo!’s coming decision over its work with Overture, New York-based AOL Time Warner is expected to make up its mind this month over whether to continue using the paid listings provider’s results for its search results. The decision had been postponed from March to allow negotiations to continue.

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