Comcast Corp. has formed a new venture-capital unit,
overseen by vice chairman Julian Brodsky, which will make and manage investments
associated with the Internet.
Brodsky said last Wednesday that the new Comcast
Interactive Capital Group will look for companies involved with interactivity and
electronic commerce. The goal is to find applications that will run on Comcast's
cable systems and, over time, to buy majority stakes in at least some of those companies.
As digital set-tops evolve into advanced network devices,
Comcast is essentially building "a vast Intranet" that can make Internet
applications run better, Brodsky said.
"Whatever you do on the Internet will be done better
on a closed system," he added. "We always have that in the backs of our
He drew a parallel to early investments by cable operators
in programming services.
Comcast's board of directors has authorized the new
unit to invest up to $100 million, he said.
Comcast has already invested in several Internet firms and
Internet-related investment funds, and it keeps getting approached with proposals for
other investments. The company felt that its growing portfolio and opportunities required
a dedicated management group, Brodsky said. The unit will have several staff members, a
couple of whom have already signed on.
Brodsky said the company's Internet-related
investments to date totaled about $20 million, and they are currently worth about $70
million. Comcast has purchased stakes in online travel service Biztravel.com; VeriSign
Inc., which provides digital authentication services for e-commerce firms; LinkShare Inc.,
which acts as a facilitator for e-commerce transactions; and local-news provider
Comcast also invested in venture funds Internet Capital
Group, Media Technology Ventures and KPCB Java Fund.
Other MSOs have also invested in Internet firms, hoping
that at least some of them will add value to what they are doing.
Last week, MediaOne Group Inc. -- which owns stakes in CBS
SportsLine, Preview Travel, Golf.com and Women.com -- said its MediaOne Interactive
Services Group has invested in Autobytel.com, an online car-buying service.
Autobytel said its new broadband partner could become
"a significant asset" as it develops new applications designed to run on
high-speed Internet services.