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Talk City files for IPO

The company, which runs chat rooms and develops online communities for other Internet companies, plans to raise as much as $50 million through an initial stock sale.

WASHINGTON--Talk City, which runs chat rooms and develops online communities for other Internet companies, plans to raise as much as $50 million through an initial stock sale.

The company, based near San Jose in Campbell, California, said it had more than 2 million registered users as of March 31, 1999, and drew 2.6 million unique visitors to its Web sites that month. The visitors spend an average of 2.5 hours a month on the Talk City sites. At peak hours, Talk City has as many as 18,000 users who simultaneously chat or engage in other online activities, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

"This will probably be a very hot IPO," said Tom Taulli, an IPO analyst based in Calabasas, California. "They have very good numbers and they're filing at the right time."

Companies that help people communicate online have seen their shares soar after going public over the past year., which went public in November at $9 a share, rose 1.38 today to 61.5. MPath Interactive, which develops technology that lets Internet sites create interactive communities, saw its shares fall 5.5 today to 33.88. MPath shares, though, have almost doubled since last week's initial public offering at 18 per share.

Talk City's net loss totaled almost $7 million in the three months ended March 31, 1999, compared with $2.9 million in the same period in 1998. Revenue rose to $980,000 in the 1999 first quarter from $125,000 one year earlier.

Chairman Peter H. Friedman, 43, a veteran of Apple Computer, helped found Talk City in 1996. He was previously vice president of Apple's Internet/Online business unit. He holds an 8.2 percent Talk City stake before the IPO.

John Sculley, former Apple chairman and CEO, is on the Talk City board and holds a 1.4 percent company stake before the IPO.

Talk City makes most of its money by selling advertising and sponsorships. About one-third of its $1.45 million in 1998 revenue came from producing events and conducting online research for other companies. Talk City said its future success will depend on its ability to develop more revenue from business services.

"They are going to rely heavily on an alternative revenue source, and that is business-to-business research," said Patrick Keane, an analyst at Jupiter Communications based in New York. "I think that is important."

Talk City said proceeds from the IPO will be used to expand its brand name, to build its sales and marketing operations, and to expand its network of partners and moderators for its online chats. The rest will be used for working capital and other general corporate purposes, including possible acquisitions and expansion or relocation of its offices, the filing said.

General Electric's NBC holds a 12.2 percent Talk City stake before the offering. Hearst Communications holds a 6.5 percent stake, and Cox Interactive Media also holds a 6.5 percent stake. The media companies acquired Talk City equity in exchange for providing advertising or channels to distribute Talk City Web sites.

"They've partnered with NBC and with Cox and with Hearst, and that buys them not only credibility among traditional media partners [but also] a fair amount of promotion in those companies' media properties," said Lisa Allen, a research analyst at Forrester Research. "That kind of promotion is worth its weight in gold to drive traffic."

An underwriting group led by Lehman Brothers will market shares to the public. Talk City has applied to trade on the Nasdaq under the symbol "TCTY."

Copyright 1999, Bloomberg L.P. All Rights Reserved.

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