MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: Bun.com’s sale is sign of shake-out in evolving market

The announcement that News International has sold its internet service provider, Bun.com, is an interesting development in the medium’s history chapters. It was less than a year ago that the free ISP from News International, then branded CurrantBun.com, was launched with much fanfare on the front page of The Sun and styled as the ’People’s Portal’. It promised to give the ordinary man in the street a no-nonsense and fun approach to the web in case he was put off by the other high-falutin’ ISPs. It also managed to step in one week ahead of the launch of The Mirror’s own ISP, IC24.

The announcement that News International has sold its internet

service provider, Bun.com, is an interesting development in the medium’s

history chapters. It was less than a year ago that the free ISP from

News International, then branded CurrantBun.com, was launched with much

fanfare on the front page of The Sun and styled as the ’People’s

Portal’. It promised to give the ordinary man in the street a

no-nonsense and fun approach to the web in case he was put off by the

other high-falutin’ ISPs. It also managed to step in one week ahead of

the launch of The Mirror’s own ISP, IC24.



But competing against other major ISPs, such as Freeserve, AOL, LineOne

and the flood of other players into the market, has proved a tough and

expensive affair for NI’s service. It lost its founder, Ellis Watson,

who quit after just four months in the hot seat to set up his own

venture.



The rumour was that he was unhappy with the direction the service was

going in, which was being overseen by The Times’s general manager

Alasdair MacCleod.



Chapter two saw the relaunch of the service, this time as Bun.com, as it

looked to appeal to a more upmarket audience, with a pounds 10 million

ad campaign to back up the changes. It was a campaign hard to avoid,

with men running around in tight red swimming trunks rescuing dazed bun

surfers in prime-time TV ads.



Chapter three saw NI return its focus to content and e-commerce with the

launch of the News Network and its first site, the entertainment-driven

auction site, FiredUp.com. This move certainly left question marks over

the future of Bun.com as well as confusion about where it sat within

NI’s portfolio.



Chapter four sees NI turn its back on the crowded ISP market as it hands

Bun.com over to one of the biggest internet players in Europe, World

Online.



And, unfortunately, the most interesting bit of information - how much

it was sold for - is a closely guarded secret. But is it a good buy for

World Online? Well, it gives them access to the ISP’s reported 450,000

users, providing a nice foothold in the UK market. Whether it can retain

that user base is another question.



NI’s sale of Bun.com is a sign of the growing pains of media owners, and

others, who have spun into the internet market and learned as they went

along. As an initiative first developed by The Sun and the

larger-than-life Watson, Bun.com has been a high-profile lesson in how

difficult it is to read and capture a fast-moving market. IC24 has

adopted a more modest approach but it is unclear whether it’s been any

more successful.



While it’s difficult to predict who will succeed in this next generation

of internet activities, the sale of Bun.com is part of a natural

shake-out taking place in the ISP market. Maybe in the guise of News

Network NI will strike gold. The pressure is on.



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