Spanish conglom establishes U.S. foothold

Spanish conglom Prisa has taken a 12% stake in U.S. company V-me Media Inc., owner of Spanish-language digital TV channel V-me, which is available in more than 70% of U.S. Hispanic homes.

No price has been divulged for the purchase.

The move surprised the industry because Prisa had been on an asset-sale deleveraging drive aimed at reducing the E4.8 billion ($7.15 billion) it owed banks in the first half. That debt repped eight times Prisa’s estimated year-end gross operating profits.

In September, Prisa sold 35% in Media Capital and 25% of publishing subsid Santillana, raising around $597.6 million.

The V-me buy does, however, fulfill Prisa’s long-term aim of establishing a U.S. base to distribute its content in Hispanic and Portuguese markets.

Prisa owns Shoepac, which holds rights to some 220 Spanish library movies. These include 1940s classics, Jess Franco titles, 1960s comedies, horror, spaghetti Westerns and upscale fare such as Alejandro Amenabar’s “Thesis” and Julio Medem’s “Tierra.”

Plural, Prisa’s TV and movie production shingle housed under its Portuguese holding Media Capital, wants to produce TV programming for the Latin America market.

In early 2009, it bowed its first internationally skewed telenovela, the $11.6 million historical epic “Equador.”

The V-me buy sends a positive note to the market that Prisa’s lenders are cutting it a bit of slack.

“Many investors are going to think Prisa has more flexibility to live with its debt and doesn’t have an impending rights issue or something like that, which will wear its share price down,” one analyst said.

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