NBCU Invests in SMS Firm

NEW YORK NBC Universal has finalized an agreement with text-messaging company 4INFO that enables the media giant for the first time to place ads and provide additional content across its portfolio of TV, film and online properties via mobile SMS technology.

As part of the agreement, NBCU will take a minority stake in 4INFO, investing approximately $10 million, sources said, through Peacock Equity, a joint venture owned by the media company and parent General Electric’s GE Commercial Finance. (Neither party would confirm the exact amount of the investment.)

As an example of how the arrangement would work, the parties pointed to NBC’s prime-time show Deal or No Deal, which allows viewers to vote by text message during certain segments of the broadcast. Until now, those messages have not been ad-supported, but they will be going forward using 4INFO’s platform. Dozens of other NBCU properties will also use 4INFO’s content and ad platforms, which deliver a single ad at the bottom of a text message.

“The fact that NBCU chose us to provide this platform speaks to the effectiveness and non-obtrusive nature in which we serve messages,” said Zaw Thet, CEO of San Mateo, Calif.-based 4INFO.

4INFO-produced fantasy-sports content, along with ads, will be integrated into three NBCU sites: nbcsports.com, NBC Sunday Night Football and Rotoworld.com. Content such as health tips will be delivered to NBCU’s female skewing iVillage.

Tom Byrne, managing director and group head of Peacock Equity, said the investment company tries to find firms in high-growth media sectors where NBCU wants to advance its own interests. “It’s a great strategic fit,” he said of the 4INFO deal. (4INFO will use the cash to build its sales force in major markets nationwide.)

Peacock Equity is the fifth outside investor in 4INFO. The others are Gannett, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Sand Hill Capital and U.S. Venture Partners. Other clients include Tribune Co., TV Guide and InterActiveCorp.

The 4INFO deal is the second agreement NBCU has struck in the emerging media space this week. Yesterday it completed a deal with IGA Worldwide, the in-game advertising network. NBCU Digital Media will sell a portion of IGA’s premium ad inventory and create customized packages for clients on the IGA network.