The announcement of pact to buy the nation’s dominant broadcast network from Telefonica comes on the first formal work day atop Viacom for Bob Bakish, the former international networks chief, who was appointed acting president and CEO of the media conglom last month. The acquisition underscores Bakish’s pledge that Viacom will not be in a standstill while its board considers the possibility of a reunification with CBS Corp.
The deal brings Viacom significant resources that spread beyond the core broadcast network and beyond Argentina’s borders. Telefe International is a pay TV service that operates in 17 countries. Telefe also has 12 production studios and a library of 33,000 hours of content that is distributed in 100 countries and in 35 languages. Telefe operates eight regional channels throughout Argentina and streaming services including a news operation and an e-commerce venture dubbed U-Play.
The acquisition will be accretive to Viacom’s 2017 earnings, Bakish said. It was funded with cash on hand from international operations, meaning that it did not add to the heavy debt load that Viacom is in the midst of refinancing.
Bakish told Variety that Argentina was emerging as a “market on the upswing” and the Telefe purchase gives them immediate heft in the third-largest Latin American media market behind Mexico and Brazil.
The pursuit of Telefe was inspired in part by Viacom’s success with its 2014 acquisition of Channel 5 in the U.K. The experience in the U.K. taught them that having a big local broadcast presence can boost the operations of Viacom’s other pay TV channels, most of which are branded Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central.
“We see a lot of benefits to scale in these cornerstone (international) markets,” Bakish said. “Going forward we think this should be an integral part of our strategy in high-growth markets like Latin America.”
Telefe itself commands a 33% share of Argentina’s TV audience. It’s a content engine that produces 3,000 hours of original programming a year. All of those assets will be paired with Viacom’s existing operations in Latin America under the direction of Pierluigi Gazzolo, president of Viacom International Media Networks Americas. MTV launched in Argentina in 1993.
For Telefonica, the sale of Telefe to Viacom is part its streamlining plan to bring greater focus to the far-flung telecom assets operated by the Spain-based conglomerate.
“This transaction is consistent with Telefónica’s asset portfolio management strategy –focused in value creation and strategic positioning– and it allows the company to concentrate even more on its principal activities in Argentina: the development of the telecommunications sector and the most advanced technologies in connectivity to drive the digital society of the future,” said Antonio Marti, Telefonica’s director of business transformation and planning.