Buenos Aires, Argentina -- Tele-Communications
International Inc. (TINTA) is well on its way toward fulfilling its long-stated goal of
creating a program-network group along the lines of Liberty Media Group for Latin America.
TINTA and its partners are soon expected to announce their
purchase of Pramer, an Argentine program-network group that currently produces 15 pay TV
channels, according to Pramer's managing director, Claudio Bevilacqua.
TINTA's partners in the Pramer purchase are CEI
CitiCorp Holdings S.A. (CEI), Telefónica Internacional de España S.A.(TISA) and
sports-programming and production company Torneos y Competencias (TyC), in which the first
three companies all have stakes.
Through TyC, TINTA is also seeking a 40 percent stake in
Argentina's heavyweight broadcaster, Telefé, which is distributed in the Argentine
interior as a superstation through cable. Two Telefé programs, Hola Susana and Video
Match, are among the country's most popular shows. Through TyC, TINTA currently
has a stake in another broadcast channel, Canal 9, which is majority-owned by
Australia's Prime Television.
While Pramer has always been CableVisión/TCI2's
programming arm, it will now be directly owned by the partners in that MSO: TINTA, CEI and
TISA. Pramer is currently owned by Eduardo Eurnekian, who originally owned 100 percent of
former MSO CableVisión and who is expected to remain the owner of Pramer's news
channel, CableVisión Noticias. Pramer's price tag is unknown, but Bevilacqua
estimated the company's value at $120 million.
Along with Pramer, TINTA and its partners are using TyC as
a vehicle for building a programming-production empire.
On the content front, TyC owns the national league soccer
rights -- the most valuable commodity in Argentine cable TV -- until 2014. The tournaments
that TyC arranges between Argentine and other Latin American teams also make it a leading
Pramer's América 2 is distributed by cable and
satellite in the interior and in 10 other Latin American countries. Its América Sports
sports channel and Telemúsica and Music 21 music channels, along with CableVisión
Noticias, are also exported.
"We are effectively joining forces with TyC to have
the pick of Argentina's best content and to be able to form programming packages to
sell to cable TV abroad," Bevilacqua said.
In establishing its new program-network group, TINTA and
its partners join a number of other important players in this category. On that list is
Buenos Aires-based Imagen Satelital, a unit of Venezuela's Cisneros Television Group
and the largest programming distributor in Latin America's Southern Cone region.
Other Argentine heavyweights include Clarín's programming powerhouse, Artear, and
Artear produces channels such as broadcast network Canal 13
and cable programmers Todo Noticias (news) and Volver (national films). It also has new
projects in the pipeline: a joint-venture arrangement with some of the region's top
programming powerhouses, such as Brazil's Globo and Cisneros, to produce channels for
the Southern Cone, according to Alejandro Largomarcino, Artear's director of new
All told, TINTA's existing and planned programming
acquisitions indicate that Argentina's programming business is consolidating in a way
similar to the country's operations business.
Last year, a flurry of acquisitions resulted in
Argentina's cable industry being mostly concentrated in the hands of two MSOs, down
from three. Argentina's top two MSOs are CableVision/TCI2 and
Clarín-owned Multicanal, which, last year, divided up the assets of another MSO, Video
Uncertainty, however, surrounds the fate of
Argentina's other major program-network group, Gala. In the past, it acted as
VCC's programming arm, but since the breakup of VCC, its future looks precarious.
Some of Gala's more successful channels, such as El
Canal de la Mujer and Bravo, have large niche markets, but they probably do not earn the
ratings required by their dual owners, according to a high-placed source at Gala who is
resigned to seeing many of its channels disappear.
"They [Gala's new owners] are not really
interested in programming -- just in what pleases
the accounts books," he said.