BOGOTA — Colombian television opened a new chapter last week with the award of commercial licenses to two of the country’s leading program producers.

Ending 40 years of state monopoly, the National Television Commission on Nov. 24 bestowed private franchises on CaracolTV and on RCN, both long-established production companies. They now face bills of $95 million for the privilege.

The two companies have undertaken to start broadcasting before June of next year, with 18 hours daily of national and imported programming.

“This is an important day for Colombia — until now it was the only country in the western hemisphere which had never had private television,” says Mauricio Calle, programming director at RCN. “The Colombian people will now have more choice and more complete and coherent programming.”

Set aside

About half of the new programming slots will be set aside for national productions, with the remainder dedicated to imports.

Some commentators have suggested that the franchises concentrate power in the hands of business giants: Caracol is owned by the Ardilo L├╝lle Organization and RCN is owned by the Santo Domingo Group — two of Colombia’s most powerful business groups .

Some industry analysts fear the new channels will bring quantity, but not quality, to Colombian television.

‘Black’ future

“I see the future of TV in Colombia as very black,” said journalist Maria Theresa Herran. “In the short term, privatization will bring great proliferation to television, but in the long term it will mean the end of small and medium-sized producers, and the strengthening of the bigger groups.”

The economic stakes are high — last year advertising revenue on the state channels came to $270 million. With two new national channels, and a set of regional and local stations planned for next year, media analysts are now predicting an ad price war.

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