financial chatrooms close

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    Two of Australia's largest online equities forums will disappear from cyberspace tomorrow, their going a stark reminder that the tech boom that once fuelled them is well and truly over.

    HotCopper, arguably Australia's most popular online financial chatroom, told its 15,000 members - just 70 of whom paid for the service - it would shut its doors at the close of ASX trade on Friday.

    Subscribers to StockWatch, the online financial forum owned by OzEmail, have been sent a similar message.

    Listed online financial information company InvestorWeb has already struck a deal with OzEmail to acquire and service StockWatch's estimated 10,000 members.

    Meanwhile, HotCopper's parent company WealthPoint - which in turn is owned by St George Bank - is understood to be in negotiations with Ozestock, the group that runs one of Australia's oldest online stock discussion sites.

    Industry sources said yesterday Ozestock was itself facing a cash crisis.

    WealthPoint's chief operating officer, Mr Robert Pieterse, said the decision to close HotCopper had not come from St George Bank.

    "They were informed, of course, but this was something we were prepared to do before the acquisition. We were always looking at the drain HotCopper represented," Mr Pieterse said.

    In August, St George Bank bid $31 million to acquire the 90 per cent of WealthPoint it did not already own.

    The acquisition, which was widely criticised at the time, also gave St George control of WealthPoint's other businesses, including Assirt Equities and Falkiners Stockbroking.

    Mr Pieterse said HotCopper's business model of generating revenue from online advertising was "simply not viable" now that the market had "disappeared".

    He also said the fact HotCopper had been able only to attract a very small number of paying subscribers had not helped.

    "People were just not willing to pay - it was beyond their level of interest," he said.

    While Mr Pieterse declined to discuss what drain on WealthPoint's finances HotCopper represented, it is understood the site cost about $300,000 a year to run.

    HotCopper raised $5.1 million when it listed in December 1999. One month later, the group was all but acquired by WealthPoint, which was then known as Bourse Data.

    An OzEmail spokesman said the closure of StockWatch was in line with the ISP's move away from being a content provider. In June, OzEmail signed Yahoo! Australia and New Zealand as its content partner, claiming it wanted to concentrate on its core ISP business.

    However, the spokesman said that of StockWatch's 20,000 subscribers, just 1,000 paid for the service.

    oh !

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