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RealTime IT News

AOL to Float Latin American Unit

America Online Inc. is set to spin-off its Latin American division with its initial public offering at the end of this month.

Analysts estimate America Online Latin America Inc. stock offering could raise as much as $425 million.

Trading under the stock symbol AOLA on NASDAQ, American Online Latin America is set to offer 25 million shares of stock in a price range of $15 to $17 per share.

AOL Latin America intends to become the leading provider of interactive services in the region. The project is a joint venture between America Online and the Cisneros Group.

AOL Latin America provides of localized, AOL-branded interactive services in several South American countries. The company offers Internet services to subscribers, which will be developed on a country-by-country basis in each of AOL's target markets through specialized Web portals.

Earlier this month, AOL Latin America launched America Online Mexico, its first Spanish-based service.

In Mexico AOL distributed free starter kits that users can pop into their computers to install AOL access services, as well as a wide range of content in Spanish. AOL exported standard American features to its audience in Mexico, including e-mail, chat, instant messaging, and a security system to keep children out of pornography sites.

AOL Latin America is schedule to introduce its AOL Argentina service Aug. 8, with services to Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay to follow later this year.

AOL worldwide operates in eight languages in 16 countries. The company launched its AOL-branded interactive services in Brazil in November 1999.

In December, America Online Brasil reported more than 65,000 members signed up for the service just three weeks after its launch. At the time, Charles Herington, AOL Latin America chief executive officer said both member growth and usage were running well above its expectations, but that it services to Brazil are just part of AOL's Latin American marketing strategy.

"The objective is to cover 98 percent of Latin America's online users by the end of 2001," Herington said. "With Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, we will cover more than two-thirds of the current users in the region."

AOL Latin America has its work cutout for it. The region is behind most of the world in current rates of Internet use, less than 3 percent of the Latin America's population are online. But Herington said AOL Latin America is betting that the region's Internet growth rate is about to boom, eventually being higher than any other region in the world.

"Three quarters of the people who are going to be online in 2003 are not online today. That is the market we are after," Herington said.

AOL Latin America recently entered into a major strategic alliance with Banco Itaz, one of the region's financial institutions with extensive online banking operations. The two companies plan to create a co-branded, customized version of the America Online Brazil service to be marketed to the banks more than 7 million customers. As a part of the deal Banco Itaz also became a minority shareholder in AOL Latin America.

Initially, AOL Latin America's revenue is principally derived from subscriptions, but the company plans to build its online service member base and portal in order to generate additional revenues from advertising and e-commerce.

As the nation's largest online service provider with a membership base of more than 23 million users, AOL intends to dominate Latin America in the same way its servic