East Meets West : NBCU/Comcast to Open Equity Fund in Silicon Valley

Last Updated Nov 16, 2010 12:25 PM EST

One of the themes of Media Creature is the great divide between the traditional media companies (which range from ESPN to Scripps to Time, Inc.) and the non-traditionalists (anything digital); in short, the two sides don't see eye-to-eye very often. Thus, it was surprising to see that one outgrowth of the pending merger of NBC Universal and Comcast is a Silicon Valley-based equity fund to be headed by Amy Banse, who is currently president of Comcast Interactive Media, per AllThingsD. Could east finally be meeting west?

You could interpret this as nothing more than a consolidation of entities that already existed. Though details are bit dodgy on how this is all going to work, apparently the new fund will merge two existing ones -- Peacock Equity, which has been run by GE Capital and NBCU, and Comcast Interactive Capital. But there appear to be big differences here, too: the biggest being that, for the first time in either Comcast's, or NBCU's, history, they will have a true presence in Silicon Valley. That matters.

It's partly about proximity to the movers and shakers on the left coast, but also about mindset. While there are certainly East Coast-based v.c.'s, particularly in Silicon Alley, most of the action still centers around the anything-is-possible world view that typifies California's tech culture. Also, Google vs. Facebook wars aside, it's a less protectionist culture, which means that, just maybe, NBCU and Comcast would finally understand -- as most traditional media companies don't -- that protecting old models at the expense of new ones may only be the way to win battles for audiences and ad dollars. Those models won't win the overall war.

With the exception of an early investment in TiVo, to date the two existing funds seem to have been playing around with respectable, but not world-altering, tech companies like CitySearch and ad infrastructure play The Rubicon Project, neither of which have massive implications for NBCU/Comcast's business going forward. Banse, however, has been more involved in what will be the sweet spot in digital for television companies going forward: finding ways to profit from streaming content online. During her time at the helm of CIM, she's worked on sites such as xfinity.tv, which streams premium video content, like Hulu.

This is all speculative, of course. But one obvious way for traditional media companies to win at digital is to have an equity stake on how it shakes out going forward. This new, as-yet-unnamed fund, looks like a more definitive step in that direction.

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