Dialing up a sudser

Customers can tune into telenovelas by telephone

HOLLYWOOD — Broadcasters across Latin America are phoning content to the public. And in this telenovela-mad region, some are beaming 100-plus episodes of the sudsers to cell phones.

Argentina’s No. 2 net, Artear, launched the country’s first live TV feed to cell phones this month.

The company, a subsid of local conglom Clarin, teamed up with Telecom Personal to offer subscribers sitcoms, telenovelas and newscasts direct to video-enabled cell phones.

While only 3%-5% of its 3 million subs have the handsets, Personal’s marketing director Guillermo Rivaben said the number should increase as phones drop in price. They cost between $300-$600, half as much as last year.

In Mexico, Televisa’s Esmas Movil launched cell phone text messaging with Telcel, a unit of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim’s America Movil, earlier this month.

As their promo for “Mujer de madera” claims: “Forget about ‘I heard from Juana who heard from Rosi, who was told by a friend whose third cousin works in production that….’ Now you can have, on your cell phone, the best gossip about the cast and production, all the secrets and scandals.”

Buongiorno MyAlert, a division of Italy’s Buongiorno Vitaminic, will coordinate technology and content and is opening a Mexico City office.

According to Buongiorno, Mexico’s text messaging market is worth about $60 million a year and it hopes to earn revenues of $3.5 million this year.

Whether people in this cash-strapped region will embrace the service remains to be seen.

In Mexico, text messages cost 4.6 pesos apiece (40 cents). A monthly subscription to the text message service costs $4.35 and includes a maximum of up to four text messages per day.

In Argentina, Personal, the subsid of phone giant Telecom Argentina, will offer a free trial until Aug. 31. After that, it will run for 14 cents a minute or $12 for enough bandwidth for several hours of viewing a month.

Meanwhile, Brazilian media giant Globo is in talks to launch a similar service at the end of the year. Globo began May 3 to offer its programming through portal and Internet service provider Globo.com, a sister company.

The net’s shows are available via video streams for a monthly fee of $6.70. Globo.com also offers a $8.40 package including broadband Internet access and Globo’s content.

Globo.com expects to increase its subs from 200,000 to 350,000 by the end of this year, thanks to Globo’s content. The net has more than half the country’s total audience share.

However, broadband Internet has a low penetration rate in Brazil. The country had 12.3 million Internet residential users (out of a population of 175 million) in March, but most of the connections are not fast enough for videostreaming.

Mexico’s TV Azteca has begun live transmissions of its Canal 13 programming over the Internet on its todito.com Web site. On ToditoTV, subscribers can watch real time programming or have access to the TV Azteca video library.

(Ken Bensinger in Mexico, Charles Newbery in Argentina and Marcelo Cajueiro in Brazil contributed to this report.)

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