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Cox muscles into local markets

Cox Enterprises is gearing up to jump into the city guide market with a big splash.

Watch out Yahoo, CitySearch, Digital City, and Sidewalk. An 800-pound gorilla in the media world, Cox Enterprises, is gearing up to jump into the city guide market with a big splash starting next week.

On Sunday, Cox Interactive Media, a one-year-old subsidiary of the nation's 14th largest media company, will launch Access Atlanta, an interactive news and entertainment site on the Web. City guides for Charlotte, North Carolina, and Orlando, Florida, are not far behind. They will launch some time this spring, according to company sources.

By year's end, Cox Interactive plans to have some 30 online products on the Net, up from their 3 current offerings, Michael Parker, director of marketing for Cox Interactive Media, said today. That makes the rollout one of the most aggressive by any company to date. Most of the sites will be city-oriented, but some will focus on popular subjects, such as baseball.

The rollout is another example of a traditional media company with newspaper, TV, and radio franchises extending its editorial and distribution online. Other leaders include the Tribune Company, Knight-Ridder, and the New York Times Company They are offering competition to Internet-only companies such as Yahoo, and the market is getting crowded. Next month, Microsoft enters the fray with its Sidewalk site in Seattle.

The battle could be bloody. Sidewalk is turning to alternative weeklies such as the Village Voice to bolster entertainment listings, while companies such as Cox can leverage the content from their other editorial outlets.

Cox also plans to partner with the @Home Network to help market the sites in some cities. @Home, which offers high-speed Internet access on cable television systems, is jointly owned by Cox, Comcast, Tele-Communications Incorporated, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

The content in Cox's sites will differ depending on the market, said Parker. Access Atlanta, for example, will be a "place where all Atlantans meet online," he said. The city guide used to reside on Prodigy before that service's transition to the Web.

The site will include chat, digital bulletin boards, and content culled from Cox's other properties, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution newspaper and WSB-TV. There will be a chance to comment on breaking news stories, as well as reports on weather and entertainment. Some original content will be offered as well, Parker said.

Sources said the Charlotte site will be more like a city guide, with emphasis on entertainment and "cool" places to go, as well as news and weather.

The free sites will generate money from local advertising, Parker said. The Access Atlanta site will include classified ads as well.

Cox has had a small online presence in the past. Cox already has a city site called Austin360. One feature: "This is Austin from A to Z." It also has a site called Fastball, which focuses on major league baseball, as well as GoWest, which focuses on sports and leisure in the West.

But its current presence is minimal compared with what Cox has in the works, executives said. They concede there's a concern about "cannibalizing" advertising from print, TV, and radio sites. But Parker thinks there's room for both.

Media companies led by Gannett, the New York Times Company, Times Mirror, and Knight Ridder have formed a group called the New Century Network to help pool advertising and editorial resources.