MARKS & SPENCER BUYS TALKCAST STAKE

Byline: James Fallon

LONDON — Marks & Spencer PLC has acquired a 20 percent stake in the digital communications and media company Talkcast Corp. PLC for an undisclosed sum.
The investment is aimed at bolstering Marks & Spencer’s involvement in new digital media. The two companies termed the deal a strategic partnership under which Talkcast will develop and market new services and products to Marks & Spencer’s customers.
The deal was carried out through the retailer’s new subsidiary, Marks & Spencer Ventures, which has taken a string of strategic stakes in Internet and digital media companies in the last four months. These include an investment in Media Technology Ventures, a venture capital fund, along with Procter & Gamble, J.P. Morgan and Motorola, and a major stake in the Internet startup Splendour.com, which will sell branded lingerie over the Web.
The Talkcast investment is the largest so far by Marks & Spencer Ventures, the firm said. It will make the British retailer the largest single shareholder in Talkcast, which has such other investors as Durlacher Corp. PLC and Autonomy Corp.
Under the deal, the two companies hope to combine Marks & Spencer’s know-how in marketing, customer relations, retail and logistics with Talkcast’s skills in content, technology and digital marketing. The services are expected to be offered initially only to Marks & Spencer’s account customers through in-store promotions, mailings, Web site links and other offline channels.
“Although this is our fourth venture, this is the first to bring together experts in digital technology and information services with our product innovation skills,” David Norgrove, chairman of Marks & Spencer Ventures, said in a statement. “This partnership will help us find new ways to communicate with our customers and to please them.”
Norgrove said the initial focus of the venture would be on telecommunications and digital services, including information services that are accessed through such devices as hand-held computers or mobile telephones. The first product under the venture is expected to be launched this fall, perhaps offering information on Marks & Spencer’s financial services operations.
Marks & Spencer and Talkcast aim to attract a million users to the services within two years.
A Marks & Spencer spokesman said the services wouldn’t focus strictly on mobile telephones, although they are attracting a great deal of attention in Europe for their Internet-browsing potential. Retailers and other companies already are developing services for the new generation of mobile telephones that use Web Application Protocol, or WAP, technology that makes it easier for users to surf the Web via their mobile devices.

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