Media giants channel $57 million to Replay

B'casters, cablers in promo Zones

A long line of television networks, cablers and content providers have identified the enemy — and joined them.

Time Warner, Disney, NBC, Liberty Media, Tribune, Showtime Networks and other TV companies are investing $57 million in Replay, the manufacturer of the digital video recorder that will be released to the public next month.

“This investment by leading media companies and Matsushita provides us with the resources to take the company to the next level,” said Replay Networks CEO Anthony Wood. “We have now reached critical mass.”

Replay and TiVo are the leading manufacturers of set-top boxes that allow viewers to preset their machines to automatically record programming based on titles, themes or actors.

As part of the investment round, broadcasters and cablers such as E! and Showtime will create Replay Zones that promote upcoming shows. ABC, NBC and the WB are also in talks to create their own individual zones.

“Replay Zones will give these networks new ways to promote their content and provide customers with easier ways to find and watch their favorite television shows,” said Layne Britton, executive veep of the Replay Network Service.

One service that won’t make it into the retail arena is the quick-skip feature that allows viewers to zip past commercials in a few seconds. Whether the investors required a promise to remove the quick-skip button in exchange for their money is unclear.

Replay Networks’ spokesman Jim Plant wouldn’t confirm that the company has dropped the feature, but said, “It’s not our goal to destroy an advertising-based business model. We know there will be people who want to skip commercials. The goal for us is to find other ways for companies to deliver their messages.”

Set-top for stores

Panasonic is already building Replay’s set-top boxes to carry the ReplayTV service. Replay has shipped close to 1,500 set-top boxes. Rival TiVo has shipped nearly 1,000 boxes.

The announcement comes almost a week after Time Warner and Disney, along with other media players, said they are forming a coalition to protect themselves from emerging personal television systems that enable users to skip commercials.

Other investors in Replay Networks include United Television, a subsidiary of Chris-Craft Industries; Canada’s CTV; and Matsushita-Kotobuki Electronics Industries, a subsid of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., the parent of Panasonic.

AOL on with TiVo

TiVo meanwhile has a new investor in America Online. Terms of the investment were not disclosed, but the companies said AOL’s interactive AOL TV will be integrated into future versions of TiVo’s video receiver.

ABC, CBS, NBC and Showtime Networks already invest in TiVo because that service and others like it are seen as a step toward more interactive television, a development in which the nets want to participate.

(Wire services contributed to this report.)

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