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CBS taps nascent Latin market

Hoping to tap a budding audience, CBS TeleNoticias, a 24-hour Spanish-language cable news channel, will take its growing operation to the Net later this year.

Hoping to tap a budding audience, CBS TeleNoticias, a 24-hour Spanish-language cable news channel, will take its growing operation to the Net later this year.

The CBS subsidiary has partnered with Latin America online producer StarMedia to build and maintain the site. The new online service will feature news stories, including video and audio clips, focused on Latin America as well international events.

"Mirroring the explosive growth of the Internet market in Latin America, which saw a doubling of users last year, StarMedia has reached audience growth rates as high as 20 percent per week," Fernando Espuelas, chairman and CEO of StarMedia, said in a statement. "Now 5.5 million strong, Latin America's online consumers will be able to view continually updated news 24 hours a day."

The CBS TeleNoticias online news service will be available at "http://www.cbstelenoticias.starmedia.com" when it launches in the fall.

The move marks CBS's second jump into cyberspace. Earlier this year, it struck a deal to launch CBS SportsLine. Analysts say the market is ripe for the company's Spanish news site.

"The interest is starting to arrive, and they have the technological goods to develop the product," said Kate Delhagan, an analyst at Forrester Research. "It's still pretty much still a 'white' Net, but more people with diverse backgrounds are gaining access."

The Spanish-language site may also secure CBS's position as a Web publisher as it joins the online network battle. ABC has already launched a news site, as well as a site for a Spanish newspaper the company owns. "News, sports, entertainment, and financial information are the four killer content areas," Delhagen added.

But simply translating English content into Spanish won't make a Web site a hit. CBS developing content especially for Spanish speakers is a better strategy, analysts say.

"It is best to do it from a homegrown perspective, to get native speakers to create their own content with their own spin," Delhagen said.

For example, sites such as LatinWeb aggregate music, news, bilingual, and other sites designed for Latinos and Spanish speakers. LatinoLink provides Latin headlines and chat forums, and Spanish Sanctuary has articles about films and albums.

There also is room on the Net for Spanish-translated services. Many search engines accept queries in Spanish, such as AltaVista, Infoseek, and Yelp.

Still, some researchers say CBS will not achieve quick international success with its Spanish site because unlike television, computers are not widely used in Latin America or Spain, for example.

"A lot of these South American markets have incredibly low PC penetration. Of the Spanish-speaking countries, Spain has the highest amount of Internet users, which is only 1 percent of Spanish households," said Peter Dushkin, an analyst for Jupiter Communications who worked on a report about Net usage worldwide.

"Of Argentina's 7 million households in 1996, less than less than 3,000 were online. Of Chile's 2.4 million households, only 2,500 had a computer and Net access," he added. "These are two countries that are arguably more connected than other countries in South America. So while CBS's service will be great for Spanish speakers in the United States, it will take time for it to catch on in South America."