AOL Europe Enters Joint Venture with Spanish Bank

Continuing pursuit of America Online Inc.’s AOL Anywhere initiatives, the company’s AOL Europe unit Tuesday joined forces with Spain’s largest bank, Banco Santander Central Hispano (BSCH), to create Europe’s first mass-market Internet appliance-customized interactive portal. The two companies will also launch other AOL-branded interactive services in Spain.

The portal, AOL Avant, will be designed to complement an Internet appliance and will offer AOL features and channels like Travel, Finance and Shopping as well as “seamless access to the Internet.”

America Online and BSCH will each hold 40 percent of the joint venture and the rest will be held by investors in Prodigios Interactivos, an Internet portal under development and backed by BSCH, Sol Melia and Planeta, among other investors. Prodigios’ project will serve as the basis of AOL Avant, which is scheduled for launch in early 2001.

The Prodigios management and employee team of more than 100 will be moved to the joint venture.

“America Online is delighted to partner with BSCH to bring AOL-branded interactive services to Spain, one of Europe’s most important markets,” said Michael M. Lynton, president of AOL International. “With the Internet in Spain about to explode, the joint venture will have the opportunity to gain a first-mover advantage through BSCH’s promotion to its 10 million banking customers nationwide and extensive expertise in the Spanish interactive market, along with the strong management and operating team that has already been pulled together to support the Prodigios portal. In particular, we believe that AOL Avant and the Internet appliances for which it is customized will be the right package at the right price to introduce Spanish customers to the AOL brand and experience.”

The joint venture plans to distribute 500,000 Internet appliances to selected BSCH customers in conjunction with the AOL Avant service. AOL said the appliances — featuring 64 MB of RAM, 4 GB hard drives and wireless keyboards with five “smart keys” — will be offered to Spanish consumers for an affordable monthly subscription fee, and promoted through BSCH’s 6,000 branches. The appliances will operate on a customized version of the Linux operating system.

“Spain is on its way to becoming one of Europe’s most dynamic markets for Internet services,” said Juan Rodriguez Inciarte, director general of BSCH. “This joint venture with the world leader in interactive services will create a tremendous platform both to drive the Internet’s mass market growth and BSCH’s accelerating advance into online banking. We believe that AOL Avant and its Internet appliances will make it convenient and affordable for Spanish consumers to enjoy the AOL experience and help pave the way for the development of a vibrant Net economy.”

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