Pramer topper ankles

Liberty removes Bevilacqua, places Johnson in top spot

BUENOS AIRES — Liberty Media Intl. has abruptly ousted the CEO of Pramer, its Argentina-based pay TV programmer and distributor, amid rumors of unsound business practices.

American exec Bradley T. Johnson replaced Claudio Bevilacqua as topper Monday, four days after Liberty removed Bevilacqua without disclosing the reasons for its exec shuffle.

In a press release issued late Tuesday, Buenos Aires-based Pramer said Bevilacqua, who has been at the helm of the company since 1998, was planning to resign.

“Claudio Bevilacqua had indicated some time ago that he would be retiring,” David Leonard, prexy of Liberty Media Latin America, told Daily Variety.

However, industry sources cited rumors of dodgy deals for advertising sales, decoders and programming acquisitions. They also said that Liberty cut Internet and email access last week, and has now installed auditors from KPMG to sift through operations.

Leonard declined to comment on the circumstances of Bevilacqua’s departure.

He did acknowledge that auditors are on site at Pramer as part of a routine annual audit.

Bevilacqua was unavailable for comment.

Johnson was not a Liberty employee at the time of his appointment, but Leonard said the two had worked together in the past. Johnson has about eight years experience working in Argentina, mostly in cable, some in wireless, Leonard said.

Among other jobs, Johnson has worked at telecommunications company Velocom as a top South America exec.

Otherwise, Leonard is anticipating that operations will proceed apace. “Our goal is to proceed seamlessly,” he said. “No other significant management changes are envisioned at the current time.”

The move is a blow to Latin America’s struggling pay TV industry. Pramer distributes 23 feevees in Latin America, Spain and the U.S., including several of its own such as food net ElGourmet.com and children’s channel Magic Kids.

Most of its carriage deals are concentrated in Argentina, once the region’s most heavily cabled country, and other parts of the southern cone. It has been growing its distribution outside of Argentina.

Pramer also handles distribution of other programmers’ feevees, a business that has grown as the pay TV industry has suffered in Latin America and a number of panregional networks have outsourced operations.

Distribution clients include Universal Studios’ USA Network; Zone Vision’s Reality TV; Cosmopolitan Television, the femme-targeted net it distributes in Latin America for Hearst Entertainment and Syndication; and Hallmark, among others.

Pay TV programmers have struggled since the collapse of the Argentine economy, which forced the conversion of contracts from U.S. dollars to local currency, and new regulations.

Those rules include one issued in a Dec. 23 decree that bans commercials during feature films on pay TV channels. Programmers have until April 1 to comply.

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