Spain pay TV merger looms

Gov to announce verdict by Dec. 15

MADRID — Signs are gathering that the Spanish government will green light the mooted merger of Spain’s two main pay TV operators, Sogecable and Telefonica-owned satcaster Via Digital.

A final decision must be made by Jose Maria Aznar’s ruling Partido Popular by Dec. 15.

First, a late August report by Spain’s telco watchdog, the Telecommunications Market Commission (CMT), underscored that if a merger didn’t go through, Via, suffering debts of €1.85 million ($1.8 billion), could go to the wall.

This week press reports cite government officials who suggest that the merger will be approved – given the financial problems of other pay TV operators in Europe.

There were other good omens Sept. 17 when Sogecable chairman Jesus de Polanco inaugurated the group’s grandiose new headquarters north of Madrid. Spanish VP Mariano Rajoy, whose very presence was seen as a positive merger portent, flanked Polanco.

So was his speech, especially his suggestion that merger decisions must be handled “with a delicate touch.” In other words, the government will approve the merger, although impose conditions, such as Spanish cable operators’ access to the single platform’s soccer and big movie rights.

Sogecable and Telefonica announced May 8 that Sogecable would absorb Via. In August the EU ceded anti-trust approval of the merger to the Spanish government.

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