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Supermarket boss snaps up bargain in Argentina

De Narvaez to pump money into p'gramming, streamlining ops

BUENOS AIRES — After years of regret over spending $150 million to buy America TV in 2000, Carlos Avila has finally cut his holding of the debt-ridden and lowly ranked Argentinean broadcaster.

The Paraguay-born businessman sold the stake at what was said to be a fraction of what he first spent, offloading it late last month to focus on his sports assets, including a lucrative holding of the TV rights to Argentina’s popular first division soccer league.

Avila’s reign at America TV was marred with financial difficulties. The company defaulted on an estimated $50 million in debt, then entered bankruptcy protection. In 2001-02, Argentina’s economic crisis jacked up costs and caused ad coin to plunge.

The buyer of the fourth-ranked broadcaster is Francisco De Narvaez, a businessman who became a millionaire through a supermarket chain he sold several years ago.

He plans to pump money into buying programming and streamlining operations, helping it climb in the ratings and increase ad coin.

The broadcaster is already heading in this direction. This year, with a growing economy boosting ad revenue, it has added costlier productions such as Endemol series “Doble vida” (Double Life) and imported shows, diversifying a lineup long dominated by newscasts, yakkers, sports and gossip shows.

For De Narvaez, the purchase is part of a plot to create an entertainment holding company. He recently bought the La Rural convention center in Buenos Aires, where he is adding more theatrical events and plans to build a cinema complex. His purchase of America TV came, too, with interests in a prominent cable news net, radio broadcaster, a small TV broadcaster and a financial newspaper.

The media assets could play into his political ambitions. De Narvaez is running for congress in the October elections.

Avila, meanwhile, still holds 35% of America TV with longtime business partner Luis Nofal. Avila’s son Juan Cruz remains general manager.

Argentinian airport mogul Eduardo Eurnekian owns 15% of America TV. The other shareholders are longtime media businessmen Daniel Vila and Jose Luis Manzano, a former political heavyweight.

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