About half of Australia's most popular Web sites are associated with traditional news and sports organizations. The ability to establish a rapport with old and new readers online, and turning that relationship towards satisfying business outcomes, appears to be the basic model for success, and perhaps revenue.
Here are some of the most visited Web sites in Australia earlier this year.
As of early this year, the most popular by far was NineMSN, which was also Australia's most-used site in terms of hits for much of 1999. It is a joint venture between Microsoft and Channel 9, the biggest of Australia's three commercial TV networks, an arrangement similar to MSNBC in the U.S.
The power of the Microsoft alliance has many benefits for Channel 9. Microsoft owns the free email service, Hotmail, and more than 1.6 million Australians have accounts. After a subscriber logs off, Hotmail throws the person to the NineMSN home page, which boosts the number of hits and is a significant factor in site's high ratings.
Next on the list is Commonwealth Securities, the online brokerage arm of Australia's second biggest bank. The Commonwealth was the country's first bank to offer stock trading via the Internet. Just over half of Australia 's adults own shares or have money invested in institutions that deal on the stock market, one of the highest investor levels in the world.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation site consistently sits in third place. Modelled on the BBC, the broadcaster receives an operating grant from the federal government each year. It does not carry advertising and delivers a much respected, medium-brow news and current affairs service.
The ABC Web site is formidable. It was named best online news site at the annual Internet Australia awards in 1998, and again late last year. The ABC's site offers news from a national radio network, plus transcripts from its heavyweight Radio National talk and current affairs programs.
Telstra vies with Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation for the title of Australia's largest company in terms of market capitalisation. Telstra's national directory services (White and Yellow pages) are consistently placed in the top 10 sites, in January coming in at fourth and sixth position. Telstra is shaping to turn itself into a media company, having hired a group of multimedia journalists in the past few months.
Sanford Securities moved into fifth position in January, probably because of the boom in interest in stock trading. Sanford was the first brokerage to provide updated and live market data via its Web site.
The Australian Stock Exchange site consistently rates in the top 10, coming in at about seventh place. Its popularity is a further indication of the interest in shares and the scope of the site. It provides market news, live indices, brief share prices and company announcements.
Start, a free Web-based e-mail service, has soared into the charts at number eight. Its popularity is based on its selection of job search and career management tools, a comprehensive weather guide and a useful reminder function.
Another News Corporation venture, the News site accumulates the output of more than a dozen of News Ltd.'s daily newspapers. Rupert Murdoch may have been slow to embrace new media internationally, but that is changing in Australia. News Ltd.'s subsidiary News Interactive has boosted its staff from 30 to 160 in the past year, though most of them are not journalists.
The tenth spot went to the Australian and New Zealand edition of Yahoo!. It has dropped noticeably from the top four over past months, primarily because of the increased popularity of the other sites.
The Fairfax organization actively embraced the Internet soon after the appointment of a new CEO, Fred Hilmer, in 1999. More than 20 niche sites have been accumulated under the banner of f2. Unfortunately, no mechanism exists for logging the total number of hits. If there were, f2 may rank ahead of NineMSN.
The f2 site includes links to the online editions of two of the country's major dailies, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Both regularly appear in the top 20 to 25. The Age published the first online edition of a daily paper in Australia in February 1995.
Fairfax also provides a collection of sports niche sites such as Rugby Heaven and Australian Rules. "Aussie Rules," a messy melange of Gaelic football and soccer, is the country's most followed sport. The season runs almost uninterrupted for most of the year, with a brief break during Australia's summer.
During winter the rival Australian Football League site is one of the most popular sites. The AFL runs its site in collaboration with News Ltd. Traffic at the site is especially heavy on Sundays, traditionally a day of rest in Australia. Most games are played the day or evening before. It features player profiles, fixture lists, team information and breaking news.