As the dot-tv suffix goes live May 15, dozens of companies have ponied up thousands of dollars for the right to use the new domain names, including a number of big local Internet players.

When Idealab hatchling DotTV in Pasadena announced last month that it would pay $50 million over the next 10 years to a tiny Pacific nation for rights to the Internet domain suffix "dot-tv," it seemed like kind of a far-fetched business model. Yet the suffix is already proving popular.

"I have not been buying anything other than dot-coms, but I bought this one," said J.P. Hannan, an executive vice president at L.A.-based digital network iBlast, who registered "iBlast.tv" at auction through DotTV for $4,000 a year. "I think people understand it, they remember it, and for a television company it makes perfect sense."

Local station KNBC-TV Channel 4 and a Columbia Tristar International Television cable channel serving Pan-Asian countries have also registered with DotTV.

The dot-tv country code was assigned to the 10,600-resident nation of Tuvalu, which can only be reached by a once-weekly puddle-jumper from Fiji.

Tuvalu is not the only country that has entered into an agreement with an American company to market and sell its Internet suffix (a domain suffix consists of the letters that follow an Internet domain name, typically "dot-com" or "dot-org"). Users can currently register addresses in Western Samoa's "dot-ws" domain, the Cocos Islands' "dot-cc," and Moldova's "dot-md." (Needless to say, the latter address is attracting a number of Web sites targeting the health care industry.)

A fortunate assignment

DotTV officials feel Tuvalu, which has historically supported itself through its fishing industry and foreign aid, was blessed when it received its country code, which is expected to hold more cachet than less-recognizable domains like dot-cc or dot-ws.

"TV is the most recognized two-letter symbol on the planet, and is incredibly meaningful," said Lou Kerner, chief executive at DotTV.

A potential challenge for DotTV, however, is turning the dot-tv domain suffix into a name brand that is as well known as the ubiquitous dot-com.

"We'll spend over $20 million over the next year on (marketing) the dot-tv brand," Kerner said.

That kind of expenditure seems critical, considering how some of the company's current registered customers learned about the new domain suffix.

"A person in the television stations division gave the information to the director of IT; that's how we learned about it," said Erin Dittman, spokeswoman for KNBC. The channel's plans for the site are currently in the works.

"I was on the Net, on the Idealab site, and I saw they had a new company called DotTV, so I checked it out," said Hannan of iBlast.

DotTV is expected to get the majority of its business from companies that register an address with multiple suffixes, in order to protect themselves from cyber-squatters people who buy an address with the intent of selling it for large sums at a later time.

Columbia TriStar, a division of Sony Pictures Entertainment, registered AXN.tv for its AXN cable channels, which broadcast in several Asian countries and in Spain. While AXN officials were unavailable to comment, a source at Sony Pictures said that Columbia Tristar International Television registered the address to protect the AXN.tv name internationally.

The cost of registering AXN.tv, in the low thousands, was worth that protection whether or not "dot-tv" becomes a dominant generic domain, the source said.

Hannan agrees. "It's a whole lot more expensive to get (addresses) back than to buy them initially," he said.

Any company that has already bought a dot-tv address will be able to launch its site anytime after May 15, the official launch date. Kerner declined to reveal how many companies have registered for the suffix so far, nor how much DotTV has collected in fees.

An expensive suffix

DotTV executives feel the domain suffix has so much potential, the company is paying $1 million a quarter to administer the name for the sleepy island nation of Tuvalu. With hundreds of thousands of potential addresses available in any domain, DotTV is expected to more than make up for that expense.

Individual dot-tv addresses can cost a user from $1,000 to $1 million for a yearlong registration. Annual registrations for many addresses are being auctioned off on the DotTV Web site (www.tv), starting at $4,000 for names that could be found in the dictionary. Currently, bidders are offering $100,000 each for a year's use of the names China.tv, Net.tv and Free.tv in ongoing auctions on the site.

"What you're seeing with DotTV is that they see a window of opportunity out there. A lot of people feel 'dot-com' has been exhausted," said a spokeswoman for Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an Internet oversight group in Marina del Rey. "DotTV has been encouraged because it's a name that everybody knows, so they're marketing themselves as an alternative to 'dot-com.' As long as they're following the policies, then there's no issues or problems there."

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