Cablevision Mexico turns tide

Cabler to post net profit for Q1, halts subscriber loss

MEXICO CITY — After three terrible years, Cablevision Mexico, the nation’s largest cabler, announced a financial turnaround during the first three months of 2004, fueling hopes for an improved future.

Jean Paul Broc, general director of Cablevision here, told Reuters that its first quarter operations would result in a net profit, as well as the first positive EBITDA numbers in years. In addition, he said that the cabler had managed to halt subscriber loss for the first time since 2000, a significant achievement for the troubled provider.

Between January 1, 2001 and July of last year Cablevision reported the loss of nearly 155,000 subscribers, roughly 30% of its sub base. And losses continued through the final four months of last year; the final 2003 sub count for the cabler was 364,000, far behind rivals such as satellite operator Sky Mexico, which registered close to 900,000.

The sub losses led to serious financial difficulties for Cablevision, which have in turn been an earnings drag for majority owner Grupo Televisa. Indeed, in its most recent quarterly report, Televisa pointed to the cabler as one of its only money-losing divisions.

Cablevision has blamed its subscriber falloff to cable piracy, a serious problem in Mexico, where it has been estimated that for every three cable subs there is one household stealing the signal.

Last year, cabler announced a shift towards digital cable, which it said would be more difficult to pirate, and would also make its product more competitive with DTH leaders Sky and DirecTV, as well as microwaver MVS.

Broc said that to date 120,000 subscribers had been switched to digital cable boxes, or about a third of its base. It expects to have all its subs switched to digital in 2006.

Cablevision says that the digital cable project, which uses technology provided by Microsoft, will cost $100 million total.

Cablevision also offers high-speed Internet services and says it may begin offering Internet telephone service later this year.

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