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BUENOS AIRES — Canal 9, Argentina’s third-ranked TV broadcaster, has filed for bankruptcy protection, asking a court to help it restructure debt estimated at $21 million.

Canal 9, owned by local journalist-lawyer Daniel Hadad, took the move to buy time to refinance its debt and turn around the money-losing business without having to cut shows or staff, the company said in a statement.

Hadad inherited most of the debt — for content from Fox, Sony, Walt Disney and other major studios — when he bought the Buenos Aires broadcaster from Spain’s Telefonica and JPMorgan Chase 11 months ago.

Canal 9 also owes money to production outfits like Estevanez Producciones and the local division of Telefonica-owned producer Endemol.

This year, Canal 9 set out to cut costs by replacing pricier dramas and soap operas with cheaper formats like newsmagazines and talkers. It also added content built around the brands of General Motors and other advertisers, helping to cut programming costs by sharing the expense with marketers.

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But unpaid bills from ad agencies and settlement packages for labor disputes have kept it from returning to profit, the company said.

Canal 9 said it is in talks to refinance debt with local production companies to avoid interruptions to its programming.

Producer pulls soaps

Nevertheless, its financial problems reportedly prompted Cris Morena Group, a local production outfit, to pull two soap operas off Canal 9, including “Rebelde Way,” one of the broadcaster’s highest-rated shows.

Canal 9, which is also struggling to rebuild its finances after last year’s economic crash caused advertising to plummet 50%, is the second big broadcaster to enter bankruptcy protection in recent years. In 2001, Carlos Avila’s America TV, currently fourth in the ratings, filed for protection from its creditors as it was unable to make payments on an estimated $50 million in debt in the face of declining ad sales and a tightening credit market.