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CBS beefs up digital business with Clicker Media acquisition

The broadcast giant buys what is considered the Internet's 'TV Guide.'

March 05, 2011|Meg James, Los Angeles Times

CBS Corp. has acquired Clicker Media Inc. and installed its co-founder, Jim Lanzone, as president of CBS Interactive, putting him in charge of shaping the broadcast giant's strategy in the fast-changing digital world.

For more than two years, Lanzone has been building Clicker into what is considered the "TV Guide" of the Internet. The service allows consumers to sort through hundreds of thousands of TV show episodes and movies available online by cataloging them and providing search results and viewing recommendations.

Now, Lanzone will have much more expansive duties at CBS, leading a group of about 3,000 employees at a critical time. All media companies, including CBS, must navigate the shifting digital landscape as they struggle to preserve their traditional economic models and figure out how to make money in the "everything for free" culture of the Internet.

"This is a dream job for me in a number of ways, and it's an ideal fit for Clicker," Lanzone, 40, said in an interview. "We are winding up in a place where we can really flap our wings and build our business."

CBS did not disclose how much it paid for Clicker, which was launched in November 2009. Lanzone raised $19 million to form and run the San Francisco-based firm.

The acquisition comes as cable television and technology companies, including search engine behemoth Google Inc., see big opportunities in marrying the TV and the computer. Unlike some search engines, Clicker excludes from its results copies of pirated programming, making it more acceptable to the big entertainment firms that own content.

"The power of Clicker is as an aggregation tool," said James McQuivey, media analyst with Forrester Research. "But this is an unusual move for CBS. It's kind of like when the company bought TV.com. Suddenly they were in the business of aggregating their own content along with everyone else's."

Still, McQuivey said, the acquisition was significant because "it is a recognition that aggregation of content is going to be the model for the future."

Clicker's recommendation guide, Clicker Predict, might be the hidden jewel, McQuivey said, adding, "That's been a sorely missing part of the industry."

CBS' deal to buy Clicker should be finalized in about a week. Lanzone succeeds Neil Ashe, who announced in December that he would step down.

Before helping launch Clicker, Lanzone was chief executive of Ask.com (previously called Ask Jeeves), a property acquired by Barry Diller's IAC/InterActiveCorp in 2005. In 2008, Lanzone joined Redpoint Ventures to spearhead the development of Clicker. In addition to Redpoint, Benchmark Capital and the media investment banking firm Allen & Co. were major investors in the company.

meg.james@latimes.com

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