Telefonica eyes deals in Latam, Latino U.S.

IPO delayed while acquisitions are being pondered

FROM MIP TV
CANNES — Spanish telco Telefonica — a top protagonist in Europe’s recent mega-merger mania following its $5.3 billion buy up on March 17 of Dutch production behemoth Endemol — revealed still further aggressive acquisition appetite at Mip-TV on Tuesday, targeting Spain, Latin America and the Latino U.S.

Speaking at a joint Telefonica-Endemol reception, Jose Antonio Rios, prexy of Telefonica film and TV subsid Telefonica Media, rebuffed press speculation that TM would divest its 5% in U.K. media group Pearson in the wake of Pearson TV’s merger last week with pan-European broadcasting group CLT/Ufa.

‘Not considering a sale’

“We are not considering a sale at the point,” Rios said. TM paid $596.4 million for its stake in June 1999. TM is in talks with “20 Latin American broadcasters and two in the U.S.,” Rios said. Market speculation about TM’s next moves points to four areas:

  • A possible stake in the Clarin-owned, Argentine cable MSO Multicanal.

  • TM has reached an in-principle agreement to buy 30% of Spain’s biggest niche-channel packager, Media Park, currently held by utility company Iberdrola. It is also angling for Catalan pubcaster CCRTV’s 18% share.

  • TM is prepping two undisclosed but “big operations,” said a source, one in Brazil, another in the Latino U.S. Candidates for alliances could well be Brazilian broadcaster SBT and Sony-owned Telemundo. According to Rios, formal talks with Brazilian operators would take place if foreign TV ownership restrictions are lifted in Brazil.

Stock listing postponed

Telefonica prexy Juan Villalonga told shareholders April 7 that he was postponing TM’s June stock listing until the company enhanced its assets still further. Sources say flotation is now skedded for the fall. “TM will float when it is one of the top ten players of its kind,” Rios said at Mip-TV. “It is already close to that goal,” he added.

According to Rios, Telefonica is a front-runner in the current mania across Europe for merging traditional content players with new media/telcos which has seen, besides the Endemol-Telefonica and Pearson-CLT/UFa deals, pan-European broadcaster SBS bought out by Dutch-based cable giant UPC — all since the beginning of this year.

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