Mexican regulators mum on Televisa-Iusacell tie-up

MEXICO CITY Tue Jan 24, 2012 8:16pm EST

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican regulators on Tuesday said they have reached a decision on broadcaster Televisa's planned purchase of half of cell-phone company Iusacell, but would not yet disclose that decision.

Mexico's competition commission, which began its closed-door meeting around 1200 local times (1800 GMT), said in a statement that its officials cannot comment on the decision until the companies involved have been notified.

The regulators met on Tuesday to debate the merits of the $1.6 billion tie-up that could reshape the nation's telecom and media markets.

A decision will be announced by antitrust agency Cofeco no later than February 7, the statement said.

Iusacell has just 4.5 percent of the Mexican mobile market, but the five-member board of antitrust agency Cofeco had to consider television industry competition and other factors in deciding whether to give the deal the go-ahead.

The Cofeco website crashed for several hours due to an unusually high number of visitors on Tuesday.

At face value, the purchase would create a stronger competitor to Carlos Slim's America Movil (AMXL.MX) and its commercial brand Telcel. Slim's two companies control 75 percent of the cell phone market in Latin America's second-largest economy and helped propel the tycoon to the top of the Forbes magazine list of the world's richest people.

But the deal would also merge the interests of the country's two biggest television moguls, creating an empire that could potentially fix advertising prices for anyone trying to sell products or services through their channels.

Iusacell affiliate TV Azteca (AZTECACPO.MX), run by Ricardo Salinas, is Mexico's No. 2 broadcaster behind Televisa. Forbes said his family controlled Mexico's fourth-largest fortune, worth an estimated about $8.2 billion.

TV Azteca and Televisa, owned by fellow mogul Emilio Azcarraga, control nearly all of the open-air television market in the country and have considerable influence in elections. Mexico will vote for a new president in July.

"If approved ... the transaction would inevitably yield even more economic and political power to the two TV networks which already share more than 90 percent of the national TV audience," said a report from risk analysis firm Eurasia Group.

Azcarraga also ranks among Mexico's richest men, with a personal fortune of more than $2 billion. Televisa shares ended down 1.62 percent on Tuesday while its New York-traded stock fell 1.22 percent.

Televisa and TV Azteca receive 58 percent of the country's advertising -- valued at some $8 billion -- and hold 88 percent of all open-air licenses in Mexico, according to Amedi, an association that defends the right to information.

Santander analyst Gregorio Tomassi said regulators could approve the transaction, with some conditions.

"They could impose content conditions," he said, preventing Televisa and Azteca from giving Iusacell customers a preferential price to download television and other content on their phones.

Regulators will also have to consider the implications of an alliance between Azcarraga and Salinas in other sectors.

Televisa also owns broadband network Bestel, football teams and a massive stadium in Mexico City, a publishing house, one of Latin America's biggest magazine distribution networks, cable television companies and a direct-to-home satellite operation.

Besides TV Azteca, Salinas runs retailer Elektra (ELEKTRA.MX), cell phone company Unefon, U.S. Spanish-language network Azteca America, motor-bike and scooter maker Italika, a bank, an insurer and a pension fund.

TV Azteca lost 1.32 percent in Tuesday trading.

(Reporting By Elinor Comlay; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

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