Yahoo and Virgin agree British mobile search deal

Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson dangles on a rope to unveil the Virgin Mobile logo in Mumbai March 2, 2008. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe

LONDON (Reuters) - Yahoo and Virgin Mobile have agreed a deal making Yahoo search the exclusive pre-installed search service for Virgin’s 4 million mobile subscribers in Britain, the two companies said on Monday.

Yahoo is hoping to steal a lead on rival Google in the nascent mobile search and advertising markets, having lost the battle for dominance in the desktop computer search market, and is spearheading its European efforts in Britain.

“We will continue to focus on investing in this area. It falls squarely within our strategy of indispensable starting points,” the head of Yahoo’s mobile operations in Europe, Mitch Lazar, told Reuters by telephone.

Yahoo aims to make itself a favorite starting point for Internet consumers, providing easy access to popular services and relevant information without needing to own those services and information itself.

The Virgin deal will bring Yahoo’s coverage of the British population using mobile search up to 80 percent from about 76 percent previously through its partnerships with operators, Yahoo said, citing m:metrics data.

Globally, Yahoo now has 70 such partnerships, giving it access in theory to 850 million subscribers.

Lazar said Yahoo’s next key target markets in Europe were France, Germany, Italy and Spain. “We hope to announce some arrangements in the near future,” he said.

Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter