Mexico to auction two channels

Move could challenge Televisa, TV Azteca control

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s telcom regulator Cofetel approved late Wednesday a plan to auction two new over-the-air channels in a first-of-its-kind auction that could potentially make huge waves in a market dominated by two congloms, Televisa and TV Azteca.

The two new channels are to be transmitted digitally to 153 local markets, reaching about 93% of the Mexican population.

While Cofetel gave no specific timeframe for the auction, it said that applicants would have 30 days to submit bids once the auction has been published in the daily official record.

The auction marks a shift in policy by allowing private firms to compete for the slots as opposed to leaving the choice at the discretion of the regulatory body, as was the case for both Televisa and Azteca.

Those two webs currently have a combined market share that is often north of 95% in Mexico, but a national study conducted late last year showed that nine out of 10 Mexicans feel the current over-the-air offerings are not enough and that 82% of respondents wanted, not just one, but two additional webs.

The move could potentially open the door for media tycoon Carlos Slim, who has been vying to break into Mexico’s TV market for years, but has been repeatedly blocked by regulators.

That said, the announcement did not explicitly indicate whether or not Televisa or Azteca would be allowed to participate in the auctions, making it possible for either network to simply expand its own offerings.

However, this would be a highly unpopular turn of events.

The announcement from Cofetel did say that it had received 50 separate petitions for broadcasting licenses in recent years, suggesting that competition will be intense.

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