Strategy in wake of restructuring becoming clearer

MADRID — Spain’s new sleeping giant has suddenly begun to stir.

In a dramatic, unexpected raid in July 1997, Spanish telco Telefonica bought up a controlling 25% in Spain’s top-rating private TV channel, Antena 3 TV (A3TV).

The big question was: What would Spain’s richest and most ambitious company, Telefonica — boasting a turnover of $7.5 billion in the first half of 1997 — do with the already hyperactive broadcaster, which had trailed a $435 million debt load by 1996?

Six months later, following an announced restructuring last week, some answers to A3TV’s future strategy — and even large ambitions — may now be clear.

A3TV now splits into three divisions: A3 Network, Audiovisual Services and A3 Intl. Rather than a domestic broadcaster with a nascent international wing, the new setup reveals a heavy emphasis on both the production of new pay TV channels and TV programming (handled by Audiovisual Services) and international expansion.

A3TV sources said that reports of its teaming with All American Fremantle to co-produce a Spanish-lingo version of “I Love Lucy” were premature. Nothing has been signed. But A3TV now looks like a candidate for higher-profile international production links, if the price is right.

With a new executive team now fully in place, the former investment banker Juan Jose Nieto, A3TV’s managing director, will control the web’s day-to-day management.

Film and TV acquisitions will be handled by Condorcet da Silva, reporting to Ramon Pradera, the director of programming, broadcasts and promotion.

The largest question remaining is whether A3TV will run its acquisitions through Telefonica’s mooted all-rights film and TV brokerage house, which could see A3TV teaming for acquisitions with digital satcaster Via Digital,. in which Telefonica is also a lead shareholder. This company is now “under study,” Eduardo Alonso, director of Telefonica Multimedia, told Daily Variety.

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