Moves so far limited to 'informal discussions'

MADRID — Ravaged by plummeting ad revenues, Spanish commercial broadcasters are mulling the idea of mergers.

Over the past two weeks, media entrepreneurs have spoken in positive terms about consolidation.

Alejandro Echevarria, prexy of Mediaset’s Telecinco, admitted last week that the web has already begun to consider fusion with another TV operator.

At the moment, moves have been limited to “informal discussions,” Telecinco sources clarified.

Last month La Sexta CEO Jose Miguel Contreras said, “There will be mergers in four to six months, and we want to marry.”

Consolidation — or at least the forging of alliances — has been rumored in Spain since February, when Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s government relaxed TV ownership regulations for European Union and Spanish companies.

TV advertising revenues in the last quarter of 2008 plunged 21% year-on-year to 726 million euros ($977 million), according to Spain’s CMT telco market commission regulator.

Launched during the 2005-06 season, Sogecable’s Cuatro and Imagina/Televisa’s LaSexta are the focus of most merger speculation.

After strong investments, both companies offer attractive TV content.

Sexta has sports rights, mainly soccer; Cuatro has flagship U.S. dramas, including “House,” and an ad-friendly upscale audience. Both have low operating costs.

Established channels such as Mediaset’s Telecinco and DeAPlaneta’s Antena 3 TV are also under increasing pressure to boost sagging stock values.

Contreras believes Spain’s broadcasting sector won’t turn on individual channels in the future but on broadcast group platforms, with core channels plus HD TV feeds and digital terrestrial TV pay channels.

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