Field narrows as Sogecable, Antena 3 pact

MADRID – Following a dramatic Christmas pact, Spain’s digital TV contest rapidly could become a one-horse race. And holding the reins will be the country’s two biggest commercial TV players: pay TV giant Sogecable and top-rated terrestrial station Antena 3 TV.

On Christmas Eve, Antena 3 TV, Sogecable and regional station TV3 struck a deal to create a joint company that will control nearly all of Spain’s hotly contested Spanish soccer rights over the next 10 years.

And crucially, according to an Antena 3 press release, the soccer deal could “extend to the configuration of a joint digital TV platform.”

Antena 3 TV and Sogecable pay TV subsid Canal Plus Espana spent much of 1996 securing TV rights to Spain’s top soccer clubs. In practical terms, the new digital TV “configuration” could see Antena 3 TV boarding Sogecable’s digital platform, CanalSatelite Digital (CSD), with the rights Antena 3 has clinched to top-drawer clubs such as Real Madrid and Barcelona.

With Sogecable looking likely to ink digital TV deals with several Hollywood studios, Spanish analysts say its teaming with Antena 3 could deliver a knockout blow to Spain’s other digital platform pretender, announced in late November by Spanish telco Telefonica. Antena 3 TV, pubcaster RTVE and Mexico’s Televisa all had nominal 17% stakes in the Telefonica-led platform.

But the Antena 3-Sogecable digital deal still must be put through. A stumbling block to Sogecable’s past negotiations with potential digital partners has been its insistence on retaining a controlling 51% share in any digital platform.

But Antena 3 TV’s deal with Sogecable looks like a logical trade-off. Antena 3 president Antonio Asensio will become prexy of the joint soccer-rights company and oversee its management, with all pay or pay-per-view soccer games broadcast from Sogecable’s powerful CSD digital platform.

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