Spanish cablers are in the marrying mood

Ono, Auna a match union faces obstacles

MADRID — For four years, Spanish cablers Ono and Auna have been conducting an on-off courtship.

Last November, Auna proposed to Ono, offering E2.45 billion ($3.18 billion) for its company.

Now, Ono is wooing Auna.

Talks, says an Ono spokesperson, are in the “initial contact” stage. However, reports claim an Ono proposal values Auna’s fixed telephony-Internet-broadband arm, Auna TLC, at $3.3 billion to $3.5 billion.

Analysts are hearing wedding bells.

If so, it’s something of an arranged marriage: Spain’s Santander Central Hispano (SCH), Europe’s fourth-biggest bank, holds 18.3% of Ono and 32% of Auna.

SCH needs to show capital gains, having swallowed the U.K.’s Abbey last year in Europe’s biggest cross-border bank merger. Moreover, the new Intl. Accounting Standards in Europe will punish banks’ exposure to industrial assets.

The second matchmaker, Endesa, Spain’s biggest power company, holds 32% in Auna and also needs to cut debt. It hankers after Italian power generator Italenergia.

Yet the union faces obstacles. For instance, who will wear the trousers — Ono chairman Eugenio Galdon or his Auna counterpart Luis Alberto Salazar-Simpson?

Nonetheless, Ono and Auna make a good match.

Spliced, they cover all Spain except the north, have 1.7 million clients, and they’d ply economies of scale.

“Merged, they save on structural costs — headquarters, admin expenses — and have more purchasing power for software, network and cables,” says Glenn Spencer Chapman, an analyst at Ibersecurities.

Once down the aisle, Ono-Auna TLC would become Spain’s second pay TV power with combined cable TV subs of 815,484. That pales before rival Sogecable’s 2.1 million but it begins to open up a second Spanish pay TV outlet for distribs.

Barcelona toon company D’Ocon has niche service Superene on Auna and Ono, mini-studio Filmax has a block of films. Both Ono and Auna will launch video-on-demand shortly.

Spain’s pay TV market is still immature, with penetration running at only 18.6% vs. the U.K.’s 56% — low enough to suggest the Ono-Auna marriage could prosper.

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