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Media mogul Barry Diller is stepping up the battle for a share of the search market with Monday’s global relaunch of Ask Jeeves, the number four US search engine acquired for $1.85bn by his internet conglomerate, IAC/InterActiveCorp.

“We don’t expect great earnings to come from Ask for some time. But we have begun to invest in real terms in this area that we think is at its very beginning,“ said Mr Diller at the Search Engine Strategies conference in New York.

Search will become crucial in the future as different media outlets, whether television, computer or mobile phones, converge. “It doesn’t matter what the screen is,” said Mr Diller, “it’s all going to converge one way or another.”

Ask Jeeves, rebranded Ask.com from Monday, has retired its butler logo and introduced a streamlined homepage, a search for specific categories such as dictionary and currency exchange, and a more robust map service. It is poised to launch an aggressive tele-vision, print and online marketing campaign.

Jim Lanzone, general manager of Ask in the US, likened the new services to a “speed dial that frees people from wading through endless links”.

Since being purchased by IAC last year, Ask has reduced the number of paid links at the top of its search results from 10 to three.

The shift has cut advertising revenue by 25 per cent, a loss Ask hopes will translate into better results later. “We’re exchanging less money per search for more searches,” said Mr Lanzone.

He added that search tools for local listings and web-logs were next in Ask’s pipeline. Ask lags far behind search leaders with about 6.3 per cent of US market share in December. Google claimed 48.8 per cent, followed by Yahoo and MSN with 21.4 per cent and 10.9 per cent, respectively, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

But Ask claims its new approach lays the foundation for a longer race that will play out over the next five to 10 years. “Market share does not remain at 30 per cent plus unless it’s a natural or unnatural monopoly,” said Mr Diller.

The new Ask homepage has a simple interface reminiscent of Google. A toolbar provides specific searches in categories such as weather, currency, maps and dictionary.

Its new map service provides driving and walking directions.

IAC’s 60 internet brands include Ticketmaster, HSN home shopping network, and dating agency Match.com.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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