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NBC invests in Talk City

The online chat community's chief executive says NBC will be taking an equity position in his company by buying a minority stake.

NBC is investing in online chat community Talk City, the companies are announcing today.

Although Talk City chief executive Peter Friedman would not disclose details, he said NBC will be taking an equity position in his company by buying a minority stake.

Separately, Talk City will launch a multimillion-dollar ad campaign today with a television commercial tonight on the NBC show Mad About You to lure people to its new offering of free home pages.

The ads will include a "TV Crossover Link" that will allow those with WebTV Plus set-top boxes to immediately call up the site where they can create a Web page during the commercial.

Talk City is attempting to leverage its community of what executives say is several million people and create a new source of ad revenues. Free Web pages are among a variety of add-ons Net companies are using to lure loyal customers, including free paging services and free email.

EarthLink, for instance, yesterday launched its own home page service. But Talk City clearly is taking aim at sites such as GeoCities and Tripod, which have formed entire communities based on free Web pages.

As part of the deal with NBC, Talk City--where users spend 3 million hours per month chatting with each other--will build chat sites and message boards for NBC's At the Max teen-oriented site and for the NBC Interactive Neighborhood, a customized site for local communities offered to NBC-owned stations and affiliates.

NBC actually acquired the equity interest in Talk City's holding company, LiveWorld.

This is by no means the first deal Talk City has cut. It also has made deals with the likes of WebTV, AT&T, and @Home.

But Friedman said in this particular deal, the two companies play into one another's strengths. Currently, NBC has a Yahoo chat icon on its page. But the television network is investing in Talk City because it saw promise in a service that has some interesting similarities to television, he said.

For instance, at Talk City, users tend to spend roughly 30 minutes--a longer period than they spend at most other sites. Talk City also has an audience that is half female--a rarity on the Net.

The deal, Friedman said, represents "the whole mainstreaming of the Internet and convergence with TV audiences. Our audience is a little more mainstream [than that of other sites]."