UK dotcom companies are the best in Europe, but their multilingual counterparts on the Continent will be more successful in the long term, according to research.
A European 'e-league' table compiled by the Bathwick Group places six UK-based dotcoms among its top 10 firms, and 67 in its top 100. UK-based sports website Sportal, fresh from its multi-million pound Euro 2000 marketing campaign, holds the number one spot. The chart will be updated weekly.
But the table may give a false picture of a company's long-term viability, according to Jonathan Steel, chairman of the Bathwick Group. He attributes UK firms' current dominance of the e-league to Britain's long-standing role as a staging post for US tech firms as they move into Europe, and a more risk-taking outlook among UK entrepreneurs.
"Britain may dominate the numbers today but many of the high-quality pre-flotation net businesses, potentially tomorrow's market winners, hail from the big economies of continental Europe. More than half the top 25 are continental European. More than half of the [Bathwick report's] '15 to watch' - based on the management and business model quality - are continental companies. Four are German," he said.
"It adds up to evidence that, while Britain has been at the head of the pack chasing America for the past few years (mainly because we speak English), the other big countries of Europe are catching up quickly," said Steel.
He added that UK dotcoms' lead over continental businesses is vulnerable because most UK companies in the e-league are focused on their home market. "Few have overseas operations and those that do have established an American presence," he said.
Most continental internet businesses started out with a multi-market, multilingual approach, said Steel, which gave them much larger customer bases. "Many of those businesses have created good localised operations. How many people know that Letsbuyit.com is Swedish or that Netdoctor.co.uk is Danish?" he said.
"In France, the French portal Wanadoo accounts for almost half of all net traffic. In Germany, Deutsche Telekom's T-Online reaches almost 70 per cent of all German internet users. But in the UK, seven of the top 10 sites are US-based, with only Freeserve making the top five," Steel added.
Bathwick compiled the table using information on firms that are still in the private sector, judging their expertise in areas such as management, customer relations, technological capability and market share.
To qualify for the e-league, companies must make their living through the internet - a criterion that excludes software suppliers, incubators and web-design companies. They must not be quoted, or controlled by quoted companies. They must have their headquarters in Europe and not be controlled by companies based outside Europe.
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