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Sogecable readying analog broadcaster

Extension of unscrambled hours from 6 to 24 sought

MADRID — Barring EU antitrust roadbumps, Spain will have its first new free-to-air analog broadcaster in 15 years.

Pay TV giant Sogecable said Tuesday evening that it will seek government approval to extend paybox Canal Plus Espana’s current six unscrambled hours a day to 24. It will also revamp and rename the channel.

A government greenlight looks likely as Sogecable and managing shareholder Prisa are close to Spain’s ruling socialist party. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero wants more analog free-to-air channels, and Sogecable’s new web can use Canal Plus’ analog spectrum.

Mediaset-controlled commercial broadcaster Telecinco, whose ad revs will be dented by the weblet, intends to seek “an injunction to halt or mitigate the impact” of the new channel.

Sogecable CEO Javier Diez de Polanco declined to specify a launch date.

The market is taking Sogecable’s terrestrial broadcasting debut seriously. Sogecable shares rose 5.5% in late-day trading anticipating its announcement and Sogecable full-year results.

In related news, Sogecable satcaster Digital Plus added 48,000 subs in the fourth quarter, and Sogecable cut net losses by 53% over 2004 to E156.2 million ($204.1 million).

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