AOL Moves to Interactive TV

As federal regulators scrutinize its proposed merger with entertainment powerhouse Time Warner, Internet giant America Online (NYSE: AOL) is moving forward with plans to integrate the Web with non-PC technologies.

AOL unveiled a plan Thursday to enable Sprint PCS (NYSE: PCS) mobile phones to access the company’s online services, just one day after announcing an agreement to invest $200 million (US$) in TiVo, Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO), a television recording device company.

The announcements came on the heels of the decision by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take a closer look at how a merger between America Online and Time Warner will affect access to telecommunications services.

The FCC reportedly gave strong indications earlier this week that it will not rubber stamp the biggest merger in Internet history. In fact, the commission is asking for more information from both AOL and Time Warner in response to complaints from 43 other companies who contend that AOL is unfairly monopolizing the instant messaging business.

Phoning It In

The new Sprint PCS deal will enable 22 million AOL members — plus millions of non-members who use AOL’s Web portal — to access the company’s services via Internet-ready Sprint digital mobile phones. AOL says the service will be available across the U.S. starting Friday and will get “premier placement” on the Sprint PCS digital screens.

In addition to e-mail, news, weather and stock quotes, the Sprint PCS phones will deliver content from some of AOL’s other brands, such as Digital City and MovieFone.

Sprint PCS joins Europe’s Carphone Warehouse as the second company to provide mobile phone access to the online giant’s services.

Television Wars

AOL made a point of noting that both the TiVo TV investment and the Sprint agreement are part of the company’s “AOL Anywhere” strategy of making its brands and features available to online consumers anywhere, any time.

Meanwhile, TiVo is getting a leg up on Replay TV in the battle for major name backing. AOL and TiVo inked a three-year strategic agreement to develop set-top boxes that will enable users to access AOL’s online service and TiVo’s storage and playback technology at the same time.

The agreement expands on an alliance AOL and TiVo forged last August to make their services compatible. An AOL-TiVo set-top box that will enable users to digitally record television shows is slated for release early next year.

As part of the deal, America Online will invest up to $200 million in TiVo and will receive warrants to purchase additional TiVo shares.

The San Jose, California-based TiVo has also partnered with Blockbuster, the UK’s BskyB satellite TV service, DirecTV, Philips, Sony, and major cable and network TV programmers.

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