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Spanish cabler makes steady progress

ONO adds 13,000 subscribers in third quarter

MADRID — Unlike in most of western Europe, cable TV continues to grow in Spain. But the going remains tough, as it is for Spain’s pay TV market as a whole.

Underscoring how little headway was made by cablers over the summer, ONO, Spain’s top cable TV operator, added just a net 13,000 clients in the third quarter, bringing its total subs to 914,000.

Total takeup of clients at ONO, January-September 2006, stood at 56,000, a creditable performance in a country where overall pay TV subs have fallen from 3.54 million in 2001 to 3.26 million in June 2006, hit by the closure of the analog version of feevee Canal Plus, plus piracy.

Over that period, however, cable TV subs, packaged as part of a triple-play fixed phone/Internet and TV offer, have made steady, though not spectacular progress, rising from 587,829 in 2001 to 1,013,000 June 2006 with ONO, following its 2005 merger with main triple-play rival Auna, taking nine-tenths of the market.

Consolidating results from Auna, ONO’s third quarter operating profits (EBITDA) spiraled 125% to Euros 146 million ($192.6 million) off sales of $542.1 million.

But ONO’s large financial costs, having laid 45,000 kilometers of fiber optic networks, remain large, slashing profits to a loss of $6.6 million, July-September. Total ONO clients stood at 1.75 million in September.

“ONO’s way forward is to continue rolling out its services, acquiring critical mass, which allows for greater economies of scale,” said Javier Marin at Morgan Stanley.

Those savings won’t come fast. But ONO reckons its merger with Auna has generated savings of $171.5 million for 2006 and $263.4 million for 2007.

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