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VH1 hits Latin lands

MTV skeds launch even as market contracts

MIAMI — MTV Networks Latin America will launch VH1, its third feevee in the region, in the second quarter, at a time when most pay TV industry execs expect other channels will disappear from cable and satellite lineups in Latin America.

“There definitely needs to be contraction, and there will be contraction,” said Pierluigi Gazzolo, senior VP of distribution for MTV Networks Latin America. However, the launch of VH1 “came at the request of Mexican operators.”

VH1 will bow in Mexico first. Gazzolo said he has inked distrib deals with Mexico’s largest cabler, Cablevision, for basic cable (representing 450,000 homes) and with PCTV, the buying group repping numerous smaller MSOs outside of Mexico’s major metropolitan areas.

VH1 will be rolled out to other Spanish-lingo markets this year, but Gazzolo does not expect a Brazil bow before 2005.

The MTV Latin America channel reaches 13.5 million homes in Spanish-lingo markets only. MTV Brasil is a separate operation, distributed on UHF channels and reaching 16 million TV homes in that country only.

Nickelodeon Latin America, on pay TV systems regionwide, reaches 15 million homes.

The Latin American VH1 will mirror its U.S. counterpart, with musicvideos and longer-format programming directed to an older demographic, defined as adults 25-49. MTV Networks will eventually produce original VH1 productions for the region.

Digital suite

MTV Networks also announced the launch of the MTV Networks Digital Suite — a package of five U.S. English-lingo channels: MTV Hits, MTV Jams, VH1 Soul, VH1 Mega Hits and Nickelodeon’s GAS (Games and Sports) — in Mexico on Cablevision’s digital tier.

Gazzolo expects to ink deals with other major Mexican cablers for the digital service and said he is in talks with sat operators Sky and DirecTV for carriage deals on the rival services.

Despite News Corp.’s purchase of DirecTV, the two platforms continue to operate separately, at least for now, in Latin America, the only region in which both are operational. Digital cable has been slow to catch on in a region beset by economic troubles and in which overall pay TV penetration remains low.

Indeed, in a bid to up program sales, MTVN Latin America has upped Adeline Delgado to VP of program sales, from senior director of distribution, reporting to both Gazzolo and Debbie Back, senior VP of international sales and co-productions for MTV’s New York-based Intl. Program Enterprises. Program sales include MTV, VH1, Nick, Spike TV and Comedy Central productions.

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