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Licenses up for grabs

Gov't goal to build TV industry, produce more p'gramming

BUENOS AIRES — Despite the economic crisis, Argentina’s government has expanded plans to auction TV station licenses for the first time in 40 years.

Carlos Caterbetti, the new head of broadcasting regulator Comite Federal de Radiodifusion (Comfer), says the government will sell 300 licenses this year, more than the 90 planned by his predecessor.

Goal is to build a national TV broadcasting industry that produces more programming for local viewing and export, introduces foreign investment and creates jobs at a time when unemployment stands at 22%, Caterbetti says.

Conditions and dates of the auction still haven’t been set. Previously, Comfer planned a December auction, with licenses awarded at the end of March.

But the political and financial crises that erupted in December forced regulators to postpone it.

Most licenses will be for stations in smaller markets, though two have been set for Greater Buenos Aires, the country’s biggest market.

Comfer said up to 160 licenses could be assigned to pubcaster Canal 7 to broaden its reach.

Caterbetti upped the license numbers after two surveys found that 734 investors were interested in participating and that 75% of Argentines want more free TV options.

Argentina has 46 stations, 29 in private hands. The country’s leading channels are based in Buenos Aires and are not national networks.

Argentine media leader Clarin and Pramer, a pay TV programmer owned by Liberty Media of the U.S., have expressed interest in bidding for the licenses.

Clarin wants to build a national network to rival its main competitor, Admira, the media arm of Spain’s Telefonica. Admira operates 13 stations around the country; Clarin runs just three.

Pramer is interested in acquiring broadcast licenses because the stations would provide more outlets for its content without a huge investment in infrastructure. It produces 12 pay TV channels, some of which are distributed abroad.

However, many TV executives fear more competition will thin out an already weak advertising market.

Ad spend fell about 20% in 2001 from a year earlier and is expected to decline 30% this year.

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