CISNEROS STEPS UP

Programmer buys Imagen, ups Latin status

MEXICO CITY — In one fell swoop, the Miami-based Cisneros TV Group (CTG) has become one of the top players in Latin American programming, with the $109 million acquisition of Argentine cabler Imagen Satelital.

The purchase brings CTG’s pay channel count to nine, of which five have a pan-Latino reach. In the region, only Caracas-based HBO Ole Partners is comparable, with seven regional and two Brazilian webs.

Imagen founder-prez Alberto Gonzalez will retain management of the company and, with partners Marcelo and Gabriel Bandiera, reacquire a 10% holding with an option to buy a further 10%.

“This move advances the Cisneros TV Group by several years and gives us a very solid subscriber base,” topper Carlos Cisneros told Daily Variety.

“For some years now, I have known that in order for Imagen Satelital to grow and become an international player, we needed to partner with a blue-chip, world-class media concern,” Gonzalez’s statement said.

Founded last year, CTG already owns three services: animation web Locomotion — a joint venture with Hearst Corp. —- and two Playboy franchise nets. CTG plans to launch more channels of its own in 1997, including a women’s web and a superstation spun off from Cisneros-owned broadcaster Venevision.

“These two channels have been put on fast-track. It’s now easier to launch them because with Imagen we’re acquiring a distribution infrastructure,” Cisneros said.

Imagen’s services include pan-Latino channels Infinito, a docu web, and adult film channel Venus. In Argentina, home to nearly 45% of the 12 million Latino pay TV subs, Imagen also has film nets Space and I-Sat and series-led Uniseries, each rating in the top 20 of more than 100 locally available channels.

Cisneros said another Imagen service, Jupiter, the only Latino comedy net, as well as Uniseries would soon be spun out as pan-regional services.

Imagen also distributes nine independent channels, including Argentine franchise web MuchMusic and top-rated newsnet Cronica TV, and owns a large film library.

Rumors that Imagen was for sale have circulated for six months. Other would-be buyers included Solomon Intl. Enterprises, TCI Intl., Argentine media giant Clarin and local soccer-rights monopolist Carlos Avila. CTG emerged as the front-runner by March.

Further ahead, CTG’s purchase will facilitate Argentine market entry for Hughes-backed satcaster Galaxy Latin America, in which CTG’s parent, Venezuelan Cisneros Group of Companies, has a 20% stake.

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