Union makes move from sport to news

B'cast org set to speak with new 'Voice'

MEXICO CITY — Broadcasters’ union the Ibero-American Telecommunications Organization (OTI) is prepping the test launch of a 24-hour news net that will recycle its members’ news programming.

Canal nOTIcias, launching under the slogan “The Voice of Latin America,” is a new direction for OTI, which was set up in 1971 to negotiate sports rights for broadcasters in the region.

OTI has 52 members in 23 countries, including Univision in the U.S., Mexico’s Televisa and TV Azteca, Television Espanola in Spain, Telefe of Argentina, and Venevision in Venezuela.

The initiative is spearheaded by former Televisa CFO Guillermo Canedo White, who was ousted in a 1997 boardroom shake-up and brought back into the Televisa fold a year ago to head OTI.

Member nets will submit a half-hour of news programming to be worked into a daily eight-hour loop assembled in Televisa’s Miami production center. “It’s a very inexpensive project to start up because it has no production costs,” Canedo says.

Canedo will be CEO of the new channel; Televisa topper Emilio Azcarraga Jean will be its chairman.

The fathers of both executives — Emilio Azcarraga Milmo and Guillermo Canedo de la Barcena — played key parts in OTI’s creation.

But the union’s role diminished before the 2002 World Cup soccer tourney when DirecTV Latin America bought exclusive rights to the event in six Spanish-lingo Latin American countries, forcing the broadcasters to negotiate directly with the satcaster.

The new net will launch a test signal on Cablevision Mexico, which is majority owned by Televisa, in several weeks. It will go on regular, full time distribution on the cabler, the largest in Mexico, in four months.

No other distribution deals have been inked, but OTI is in talks with Sky Mexico — also majority owned by Televisa — and Canedo said they wanted carriage deals on other cable and satellite systems.

No U.S. deal has been worked out, but Canedo noted that Univision is an OTI member.

Univision and Televisa have a joint venture to launch pay TV nets programmed by Televisa’s Visat division into the U.S. market. The venture, TuTV, is concentrating on three music channels and two movie feevees.

“This hasn’t been conceived as a first source of information,” Canedo says. “More than anything, it’s for people who live outside their country” but want news from home.

However, it’s not clear how many people in Mexico that represents — or how many can afford pay television — where penetration rates are low.

Meanwhile, the Internet is an alternative source of news from home, with many broadcasters around Latin America offering news on Web sites.

For a regional roll-out, Canal nOTIcias faces the problem of limited capacity on basic cable systems. It would compete with CNN Intl., which delivers global news, and CNN en Espanol, which is based in Atlanta but has dedicated staff in-region and emphasizes Latin American coverage.

Canedo admits Canal nOTIcias probably won’t be a huge money maker at first. “This channel’s goal isn’t necessarily to earn money, but to provide Ibero America with a comprehensive news network,” he says.