Cisneros grabs TVI

Venezuelan giant adds ailing Portuguese

MIAMI — Venezuela’s Cisneros Group has added debt-ridden Portuguese broadcaster Televisao Independente to its fast-expanding portfolio of media assets.

In partnership with two Portuguese players — retail and media conglom Sonae and exhib-distrib Lusomundo — Cisneros led a $70 million buyout of the net, Portugal’s weakest broadcast player.

Since its Catholic Church-backed founding in 1992, TVI has failed to grow its share beyond 12%, despite a reported $90 million startup investment.

Though TVI claimed a slight operating profit in 1997, an insider said its creditors rejected a recovery plan submitted by the former owners in favor of one from the Cisneros alliance.

Cisneros executives could not be reached for comment.

Acquisition, which voids a March move by Spain’s Antena 3 to take a stake in TVI, follows the Cisneros strategy of buying underperforming TV properties and trying to turn them around.

Since joining Jerry Perenchio and Mexico’s Televisa in buying Univision in 1992, Cisneros has helped the U.S. web achieve skyrocketing profits, and Cisneros has more recently made broadcast acquisitions in Chile and elsewhere.

Cisneros has sought an Iberian presence for some time. So far it has a token stake in satcaster Via Digital, but it also is said to be seeking a position in Spanish broadcaster Tele 5.

TVI deal appears linked to the acquisition plan Cisneros is undertaking with Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst.

Last year the companies unveiled Ibero-American Media Partners, a fund that made its first purchase in Chile last month, and an insider says TVI will likely become a part of that holding.

In separate news, sources now say Cisneros is certain to take a position in Argentine media giant CEI, following last week’s move by Hicks, Muse to invest $700 million for a 30% stake.

CEI decided Wednesday to scrap plans for a $300 million New York IPO — a decision owing to volatility in emerging mar-ket stocks — making it more likely that Cisneros will enter CEI by assuming part of the Hicks, Muse stake rather than via a new purchase.

Hicks, Muse managing director Cesar Baez told Daily Variety that the indefinite postponement of CEI’s IPO would not affect the investment group’s initial acquisition, but it would terminate Hicks, Muse plans to acquire additional shares.

(John Hopewell in Madrid contributed to this report.)