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RIO DE JANIERO — The number of pay TV subscribers in Brazil rose 1.5% to 2.73 million in the first quarter, from 2.69 million in the latest quarter of 1998, according to local institute PTS.

The slight growth, attributed to the country’s economic slowdown, is well below the historical rates of expansion enjoyed by the sector until late 1997, when the recession hit.

The rise was pushed by a 15.4% increase in the number of direct-to-home (DTH) subs to 587,297.

Cable, however, continues to be the leading pay TV system in Brazil with 1.8 million subs, down 1.25% from last quarter.

The research showed operators controlled by media group Organizacoes Globo had a 64% market share, while operators linked to the Abril group’s TVA accounted for a share of 29% and independents for 7%.

Results for the second quarter will show a drop in the number of TVA subs, due to Abril’s sale in May of its stake in Galaxy Brasil, which operates DTH service DirecTV and is now controlled by Hughes and Venezuela’s Cisneros.

Analysts foresee a significant rise in the number of subs in Brazil late this year or early next year, as the groups that have recently acquired cable and MMDS licenses launch their operations.

Pay TV services are present in just 8% of the country’s TV homes.