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Viacom's MTV likely to make Net radio buy

The company will tomorrow announce the acquisition of Imagine Radio, according to a source close to the media giant.

Viacom may join its offline media rivals tomorrow in making a significant move online.

A source close to MTV today said the firm tomorrow will announce the acquisition of Net radio firm Imagine Radio, which was launched by technology publishing company Imagine Media but spun off and merged with Silver Island in July 1998. The announcement, expected to come during a press conference in Los Angeles, follows speculation earlier this month that MTV and Imagine Radio would tie the knot.

As first reported by CNET News.com, Viacom unit MTV has been shopping for an Internet radio firm for a while. It tried to buy Burlingame, California-based Spinner, but sources close to the talks told News.com that the deal broke down when the parties failed to agree on a price.

A Viacom spokeswoman declined to comment, saying only that Viacom plans to announce its Internet strategy at the press conference.

Imagine Radio did not return calls seeking comment.

Larger offline media companies have stepped up their Net efforts lately, taking stakes in or outright acquiring online brands and then wielding their brand recognition and popular content to attract Internet users. The more users they attract, the more they can demand in ad dollars and the more merchandise they potentially can sell online.

Time Warner and Disney are among the media giants that have been building their online presence. Time Warner last month launched "destination" site ACMEcity, which lets users create home pages using authorized images from the company's TV shows, movies, animation, and music properties. Observers have speculated that the company could be next among large media properties in acquiring an Internet firm to further its online cause.

Separately, Disney launched its Go Network last month, which brings together all its offline brands including ABC News and ESPN, as well as online properties such as Infoseek search and Mr. Showbiz. According to Media Metrix, Go.com was the fourth-most popular Web domain on the Internet for January 1999.

The number of U.S. Net users listening to online radio has more than doubled over the last six months, according to a study by media research firms the Arbitron Company and Edison Media Research released earlier this month. Thirteen percent of users say they have tuned in to Net radio, the study found, whereas only six percent of the survey's "diary keepers" had done so six months ago.