Latino Sports Channel Struggles for Survival


Even amid its temporary closure, The International Football Channel said it plans to relaunch across Latin America in October.

And as it struggles for a new life, TIFC's problems illustrate the fierce competition within the region's pay TV sports sector, as well as the challenges for stand-alone channels.

TIFC, owned by Canada's Bedford Communications Inc., was shut down several weeks ago to enable it to "align itself with partners for programming, distribution and finance," director of marketing and public relations Enrique Carrillo said.

He added that the channel is close to "finalizing" several such deals in the run-up to its relaunch at Argentina's major cable show, Jornadas, in October.

TIFC isn't the first channel to have difficulty securing carriage in Latin America, with programming supply outstripping system channel capacity.

But sources indicated that TIFC's fight for distribution was made more difficult because it was not connected to an established programming-network group. That's prompted its current effort to find allies, particularly in distribution.

According to TIFC sources, the channel managed to garner only between 300,000 and 400,000 subscribers since its launch in March. Those subscribers were concentrated mostly in Mexico and Central America.

Sources also contended that internal shortcomings led to the channel's closure. "They had little expertise in the region, but they thought it was a given that the channel was going to sell itself," one source said.

And TIFC launched at a time when competition in the sports arena suddenly heated up.

The soccer-focused Pan-American Sports Network launched in February with backing from Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst Inc., the private-investment firm that owns cable systems in Latin America. Since then, it has secured some 8 million subscribers, and it expects to end the year with distribution in some 9.5 million homes, PSN public-relations director Dave Fogelson said.

Even rival sports programmers agreed that PSN is a tough new entrant. "PSN has made a significant investment in sports, and it is formidable competition," said Raul de Quesada, assistant general manager and vice president of marketing and communications at Fox Sports Latin America.

TIFC, however, was never positioned to compete directly against the likes of Fox, PSN or ESPN. And that will not change with the relaunch, Carrillo said.

Unlike those channels, TIFC "does not compete for sports rights. We look at the behind-the-scenes, offbeat stuff-news and highlights," he said, adding that following its relaunch in Latin America, the channel will look to bow in other international markets, such as Europe and Asia.