Less than a year after unveiling its family-oriented on-line service, CompuServe of Columbus, Ohio, is withdrawing WOW! at the end of the month.
Launched late last March (see page 38 in KidScreen’s March 1996 issue), WOW! is targeted at home users. The service has separate areas for kids and adults, and is equipped with parental controls for Internet access and e-mail. Content for the kids section is chosen with the help of an advisory panel of 100 elementary school children, and is supplied by CompuServe and more than 20 content providers, including Sports Illustrated for Kids, National Geographic and The Weather Channel.
Despite its ambitious start, WOW! hasn’t won many customers. WOW! has just 102,000 subscribers in the U.S., compared to 2.2 million worldwide for CompuServe Interactive (CSi), an on-line and Internet service, and more than 200,000 worldwide for its Internet access offering, SPRYNET.
This low subscriber base is the result of intense competition among on-line and Internet services for mass-market, home users, says CompuServe spokesperson Gail Whitcomb.
But CompuServe has found the home audience costly to reach and to serve, says Whitcomb. For one, marketing to home users is more expensive than targeting business and professional users. As well, home users tend to require a lot of customer service. Since WOW! is available at a flat rate of $17.95 a month for six users, with unlimited hours of usage, it’s ‘very difficult to make a profit.’
D’es the closure of WOW! mean that a family service is a bad idea? With so much change happening in the market, Whitcomb says it’s hard to predict what will succeed. She believes America Online is the top service for families because it offers is a lot of entertainment-driven content.
WOW! will close on January 31. CompuServe is looking to convert current WOW! subscribers and content providers to CSi, and the company is focusing on business, professional and existing home users for CSi and SPRYNET.