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Travel Fears Fuel Web Conferencing

Vendors of this alternative to in-person meetings now will face heavy-duty competition: Yahoo has launched two Web-conferencing services.

In the attempt to return to business as usual following the events of Sept. 11, many execs are grappling with growing travel concerns. Most companies already had cut travel budgets to varying degrees prior to the attacks, but now they're factoring in fears related to potential terrorism. As a result, industry observers foresee increased demand for Web conferencing as companies look for ways to address employees and customers while remaining on terra firma.

"The outlook for this particular software and services category is bright, unfortunately," say analyst Vernon Keenan, principal of research firm Keenan Vision Inc., referring to the influence terrorism is having on business decisions. If travelers remain reluctant to fly, "there could be an undersupply of these types of services," Keenan says.

Plenty of companies are vying for a piece of the Web-conferencing market, including V-Span, WebEx, iMeet, Evoke, and Centra. V-Span VP Mark Evans says that in the past two weeks, his company has seen a 40% increase in the numbers of Web conferences it hosts. Thursday, Yahoo entered the fray with two packaged Web-conferencing services: Virtual Conference and Executive Communication Center.

Virtual Conference is designed to reach thousands of participants and includes features such as document sharing and audience polling. Yahoo VP of business and enterprise services Jim Lewandowski says Deutsche Bank is using the service next week to host 1,700 attendees for a conference that originally was to be held in Phoenix.

Executive Communication Center, meanwhile, is intended as a tool for disseminating time-sensitive corporate information. Once clients provide the information to be conveyed, Yahoo can have a broadcast ready to go within four hours, Lewandowski says.

Virtual Conference and Executive Communication Center are priced at $350,000 and $250,000, respectively, for five broadcasts.

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