Leo enters Latin pay TV market in big way

Announces joint venture with int'l cable op United Intl. Holdings

MIAMI — After two years of saying it’s about to enter the jungles of Latin American pay TV, Leo the Lion has finally done so.

MGM Worldwide TV confirmed its full entrance into the fast-growing cable market Monday by announcing a joint venture with international cable operator United Intl. Holdings.

Though it launched its MGM Gold network in Brazil last December, the studio’s pan-Latino cable presence has been limited to a small stake in film programmer LAPTV, an alliance with Universal, Paramount and Fox.

The deal essentially sees MGM taking a 50% stake in UIH’s programming arm United Family Communications, which operates a Latino version of the Family Channel and a home-oriented sister net, Casa Club TV. Both have 2 million subscribers.

Reaching ‘race speed very quickly’

“UFC has infrastructure and a management team in place, which enables us to go from starting line to race speed very quickly,” Rick Phillips, exec VP of MGM Networks, told Daily Variety.

Coming three weeks after Sony’s purchase of Spelling cabler TeleUno, the deal reaffirms that the future of Latino pay programming lies in an ability to supply bundles of channels.

MGM Gold was initially slated to bow in Spanish-speaking Latin America in late 1996, but launch was repeatedly postponed by upheavals at MGM, including a number of senior personnel changes.

Phillips said the plan is that MGM will immediately start to supply programming to the Family Channel and that within a year the network will be renamed. In Brazil, MGM Gold (1 million subs) and the Family Channel will eventually merge.

Phillips would not divulge the combined channels’ new moniker, but since UFC is changing its name to MGM Networks Latin America, it’s likely that the global brand of MGM Gold will be adopted.

The operation will continue be based in Miami under Gustavo Pupo-Mayo, who managed the launch of the Family Channel and Casa Club in summer 1997.