* Ora.TV will present television-style content online
* Larry King to have program
* Carlos Slim, Mexico billionaire, bankrolling project
By Cyntia Barrera
MEXICO CITY, March 12 Mexican billionaire
Carlos Slim is financing an Internet TV network that will
include an interview show with former CNN television host Larry
King, and could be running by October.
Blocked by Mexican regulators from tapping television in his
home country, where the world's richest man hopes to challenge
the reign of broadcasters Televisa and TV Azteca
, Slim is pivoting toward a less-protective
Slim's America Movil, one of the world's biggest
telecommunications firms, will fund the venture. Financial
details were not disclosed.
Last year the company purchased Miami-based DLA Inc, a
digital media firm that distributes movies and television series
from U.S. entertainment houses, as well as music to televisions
Slim's main expertise is mobile and fixed-line phone
networks, where he controls 70 percent and 80 percent,
respectively, of Mexico's markets and has a strong presence
across Latin America. Analysts noted he has little experience
with TV content.
"This is a big challenge for Slim," said Jorge Fernando
Negrete, head of telecom think tank Mediatelecom in Mexico City.
Dubbed Ora.TV, the new venture will be based in the United
States and could launch in the third quarter of this year, a
spokesman for Slim told Reuters on Monday.
The free online news and entertainment channel will have
mostly English-language content in its initial phase.
One analyst said he awaited more details in order to have a
better idea of the implications for America Movil.
"I think this is a very long-term effort," Santander analyst
Gregorio Tomassi said. "I'm not sure what the model is as far as
Latin America is concerned. I would like to know how much money
(they are investing)."
Slim's spokesman, Arturo Elias Ayub, said that the business
model "will be based on advertising and probably (in the future)
there could be channels that may want to broadcast it
exclusively." He declined to elaborate further.
The venture will have a New York headquarters and Los
Angeles studios to produce on-demand content and "a wide range
of programs that transcend traditional formats," Ora.TV said.
Jon Housman, formerly the president of digital journalism at
Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, will be chief executive at
Slim, who has a reputation for being cautious and focusing
on financial details rather than on-the-ground business
decisions, will likely leave content decisions to Housman and
his team, said Mediatelecom's Negrete.
The move into the United States seems like a big step, but
it also smacks of his typical savvy for spotting fast-growing
markets, Negrete said.
More and more U.S. viewers are watching content via services
such as Netflix and Hulu and it makes sense that Slim would want
to get in on this business, according to Negrete.
Slim sees opportunities in the United States where "the
entire audio-visual industry is reconfiguring all its platforms:
open television, cable and Internet," he said.
There is also increasing interest from companies looking to
tap the Hispanic market in the United States.
Leading U.S. cable company Comcast Corp recently
announced plans to launch two new cable networks to be operated
by American Latino programmers.
Separately, Walt Disney Co said in February it is
talking with Univision communications about creating a
24-hour English language cable news channel aimed at a Hispanic
Slim is Latin America's main provider of pay television,
offering cable and satellite services to around 13 million
customers, and also owns a stake in New York Times Co.
Though barred from competing in Mexico's traditional
television market, he operates local online news site Uno
Noticias which airs sports and cultural programs for free.
In December, Mexico's telecoms watchdog, Cofetel, was
planning to look at whether Uno Noticias violated Slim's
operating licenses. But regulators have yet to comment.
Cofetel could not immediately comment on Slim's latest
television venture on Monday.
President Felipe Calderon's conservative administration has
been hesitant to approve Slim's entry into the television
market, fearing it would make the tycoon too powerful.
If Slim expanded into Mexican television, he would put
pressure on the duopoly of Televisa and Azteca. The companies
have jealously guarded their territory, helping vanquish a
potential rival back in 2006.
Slim last week was named the world's richest man for the
third year in a row, according to Forbes magazine's annual list