By Yinka Adegoke
NEW YORK, March 19 Microsoft Corp. (MSFT.O), Google Inc. (GOOG.O), Yahoo Inc. (YHOO.O) and Time Warner Inc.'s (TWX.N) AOL are bidding to provide search technology and manage online advertising for Comcast Corp.'s (CMCSA.O) Web site, a source familiar with the matter said on Monday.
Comcast.net, which received almost 17 million unique visitors in February, currently uses Google's search engine service, but the three-year contract expires at the end of 2007. The site has only experimented with advertising in the past.
The largest U.S. cable operator invited bids late last year for a two-year contract for search services on comcast.net starting in 2008 and has received submissions from Microsoft and Google so far, the source said.
The site is among Google's biggest individual sources of search queries, from which it generates search advertising revenue. Google is expected to pay Comcast around $70 million this year under its existing contract, although that could top $100 million, the source said.
Google declined to comment.
Microsoft would be keen to build up its search customer base because it is far behind Google. The Web search leader captured 47.5 percent of the market in January, compared with 10.6 percent for Microsoft, according to comScore Networks Inc.
Comcast also requested bids to manage advertising on its site, which has a lot of video clips, for the first time. It expects ads on the comcast.net to generate a few hundred million dollars over a three-year period.
According to the source, bids to manage online advertising on the site have been received from Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL. The companies were not immediately available for comment, while AOL declined to comment.
Comcast.net was ranked number 33 in the United States in terms of unique visitors during the month of February, according to comScore Media Metrix. Comcast said around 70 percent of its 11.5 million high-speed Internet subscribers visit the site.
Comcast is making a push to open up the Web site to more of its 24 million subscribers so they can use it to plan their TV viewing schedule. The site will also allow subscribers of Comcast's digital voice phone service to access voicemail.
Comcast will expect whoever wins its advertising contract to be able to handle its growing online video advertising inventory, including The Fan, which is its collection of entertainment clips. It has also launched new video sites, including Ziddio, which allows users to upload their own videos and Fearnet, a horror TV channel and video Web site.
((Reporting by Yinka Adegoke, editing by Andre Grenon; firstname.lastname@example.org Reuters Messaging: Yinka.email@example.com +1 646 223 6081)) Keywords: COMCAST SEARCH/
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