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Sky Argentina hit over Fox fare

Satcaster's plan to get exclu p'gramming protested

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Satcaster Sky Argentina is confident that it can overcome the latest in a long series of obstacles “in the next few days or weeks,” according to Carolina Guevara, vice president of sales and marketing for Sky Multi-Country Partners. Although the company refuses to discuss dates or sales plans, the service should launch in Argentina in the first quarter.

Sky’s latest problem is an injunction granted after a little-known consumer group complained that the company planned to acquire exclusive rights to Fox programming, owned by News Corp., one of Sky’s backers, denying the channels to local cable multisystem operators.

Deal defended

Alejandro Martins, general manager of Sky Argentina, described this and other charges as “patently false or absurd.” The exclusivity deal applies only to satellite broadcasts, he said, adding that the consumer group “must have some sort of hidden agenda.” Sky has requested that the appeals court return from summer recess to hear the case and is confident that it will rapidly be thrown out.

Although both Guevara and Martins declined to speculate on the motives, Sky’s launch has been strewn with such obstacles. It was only granted its local operating license in November, a full seven months after announcing its launch, as the state-run radio broadcast committee Comfer dithered over the application.

It is questionable whether the company’s effort will be repaid. Principal rival Galaxy Entertainment Argentina, which currently has the direct-to-home market to itself, has picked up only 120,000 local subs since its July 1998 bow despite having poured in $200 million. The aud number is little more than 2% of the pay-TV market.

Cablers in control

Analysts blame the poor showing on competition from cable, which reaches more than half of Argentina’s homes and enjoys lower programming costs. In addition to initial connection charges, hooking up two sets to DTH and acquiring premium film channels costs almost twice as much as a basic cable package.

And with the Argentine economy still mired in recession, subscribers have shown a marked reluctance to pay more. The number of local pay TV subscribers has dropped to 5.2 million, from a peak of 5.45 million in mid-1998, mainly because of price hikes.

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