DirecTV eyes 17% stake In Via Digital

MADRID — U.S. digital TV operator DirecTV is in conversations along with its parent, the Hughes Group, to take a leading stake in Spain’s second digital platform, Via Digital, skedded to launch in September. Its stake could be around 17%, sources said.

The negotiations could mark DirecTV’s final disembarkment in Europe after DirecTV appeared to be on the point of buying into the Dutch pay TV operator NetHold in September 1996. The move was thwarted by Canal Plus’ merger with NetHold in the same month.

The talks, announced last week by Via Digital, involve a cat’s cradle of crossing interests between DirecTV, Hughes and Via Digital, as well as the latter’s need to plug a large shareholding hole.

Telefonica loses power

Spanish telco Telefonica, Via Digital’s largest partner, will be forced to reduce its participation in Via from its current 35% to 25%, the maximum stake allowed in a Spanish broadcaster under national law; while Via’s other lead investors, pubcaster RTVE and Mexico’s Televisa, have always insisted that they would scale back their investments from 26% to 17%.

An alliance with DirecTV could also allow Via Digital channels to board the Latin American direct-to-home digital TV service Galaxy Latin America (GLA). Launched in 1995, GLA is a joint venture of Hughes Electronic Corp., Venezuela’s Cisneros Group, MVS Multivision in Mexico and Brazil’s Televisao Abril.

Hughes-DirectTV’s own interests in Via Digital could include both a stake in a digital platform in a country with an apparently large appetite for digital TV services, plus the possibility of contracts to construct a new generation of Spanish satellites.

Hughes Communications Inc. is the world’s largest manufacturer of satellites with an estimated 36% market share.

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