GE-NBCU Invests in Healthline, Gaming

Busy Peacock Equity Fund Shows a Penchant for Advanced Ad Applications

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NEW YORK ( -- Putting at least $250 million where their mouths are, NBC Universal and GE Commercial Finance are placing bets on the web 2.0 world, having teamed up on a joint venture, recently rebranded the Peacock Equity Fund, to help identify young digital companies that could help them play in the advanced advertising space.
The Peacock Equity Fund, a joint venture between NBC Universal and GE Commercial, has invested $25 million in Healthline.
The Peacock Equity Fund, a joint venture between NBC Universal and GE Commercial, has invested $25 million in Healthline.

In its third and latest deal, announced today, the fund is leading a $25 million round of investment in Healthline, a health-focused vertical search engine. The previous two investments included an ad-network-technology play and a company that works with in-game advertising.

"We want to invest in companies that are growing, but to distinguish ourselves we're saying today that all of the investments will start with some kind of strategic connection to NBC," said Beth Comstock, president-integrated marketing at NBC Universal, who oversees the fund on the NBC Universal side.

Fits with iVillage
Peacock is looking to invest in the content and communities space, she said, and today's announcement fits nicely into the area of health content, a key vertical content area for iVillage.

Healthline calls itself a health vertical search engine, but don't compare it to Google, said HealthLine CEO West Shell III, who has a fair amount of hubris about his company. "We blow Google away," he said. "[Google] will send you off to different websites that they think might have it. ... We have the largest healthcare taxonomy and know what the words mean, how they're related to each other." So far, HealthLine has raised about $35 million over a previously raised $24 million in its earlier incarnation,, of which Steve Berkowitz, who is now at Microsoft, was the CEO.

Peacock's investment in Healthline comes on the heels of Meredith's acquisition of Healia, which Mr. West said is like "night and day." (Healia, which was not profitable at the time of its sale, is much smaller -- according to ComScore, Healthline is the 17th most popular health site with almost 2.6 million unique visitors in May. Healia doesn't yet show up on ComScore's reporting, which the measurement service said is probably because its traffic is too small.) According to Healthline execs, the company's roster of advertisers includes GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Merck, McNeil, Novartis, Kimberly-Clark Corp. and Wal-Mart Prescription Services.

But Mr. West said there is much more potential for ad spending in the space, noting pharmaceutical companies are a historically low online ad spender. "They're just learning to spend money online," he said.

Gaming a priority
Peacock Equity was also a lead investor in a $25 million round of investment for in-game-advertising firm IGA. Ms. Comstock said one of the fund's priorities is to extend into the virtual world and gaming space and she sees IGA as a perfect fit for NBC Universal's film studio, with nice synergies with the Sci-Fi cable channel as well. "We're looking at how we take our original IP and license it to various gaming opportunities," she said, citing "Scarface" and "Fast and the Furious" as two examples of films that have turned into popular gaming franchises.

Tom Byrne, who's charged with managing the fund, said the acquisitions must do more than simply bring financial benefits to the fund -- they should also fit strategically within NBCU. And he sees that NBCU involvement as a boon for the companies in which the fund is investing.

"It helps add value, which is helpful from financial aspect, but it also makes portfolio companies very interested in working with us," he said. "It's not like here's a check and call us in a year if somebody buys you." Peacock Equity will not be participating in any capital raised for the video-distribution play coined New Co., the joint venture between NBCU and News Corp, he added.

The fund's first investment, announced in April, was in Adify, an automated-ad-serving company that powers online ad networks. The idea is that publishers can build their own vertical ad networks, aggregating content from various smaller niche sites, in order to extend their reach in certain subject areas.
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