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Satcasters stalling in Argentina

BUENOS AIRES – Direct-to-home TV is off to a rocky start in Argentina, with a local satcaster having trouble finding subscribers and U.S.-backed pan-regional operators a long way from getting entry permits.

Argentine project Television Directa al Hogar (TDH), backed by newspaper La Nacion, agricultural group Teadsa and others, has not managed a fraction of its forecast subscriber take-up, and industry sources say the company is for sale.

Satellite operator Paracom has withdrawn from the partnership, but will continue to provide capacity for TDH on the Nahuel satellites it owns.

TDH manager Martin Rato denied that the company might be for sale, but refused to provide subscriber figures. “We’ve topped our expectations, but figures will be announced at the end of the year,” he said.

Yet sources say TDH, which launched in July and targets rural homes, has signed less than 1,000 subscribers to date. The company’s first-year target of 18,000 looks distinctly remote.

“The signals offered are poor, and $900 (the installation fee) is a hell of a lot of money for rural Argentines,” one insider commented.

TDH sign-up has also been hindered by an ad campaign for the DirecTV service from Galaxy Latin America (GLA), the Hughes Communications-backed conglom that has entered several territories since July.

GLA is here trumpeting an early-1997 bow. But the conglom (like rival satcaster Sky, which hopes to enter Argentina next March) still faces many legal hurdles, according to Juan Masiotra, director of satellite TV at regulatory body Comfer.

“Everything remains as it was a few months ago: Foreign satcasters will have to apply for a license, have at least a 51% Argentine channel lineup and uplink their signals onto Argentine satellites,” Masiotra said.

But GLA heard some good news recently from neighboring Chile. The Subsecretariat of Telecommunications has awarded a distribution license to GLA’s local operating company, VTR Galaxy Chile, a subsid of local telco VTR and U.S.-based cabler United Intl. Holdings.

GLA now expects to bow in Chile in first quarter 1997, ahead of Sky.

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