MEXICO CITY Tycoon Carlos Slim and U.S. television host Larry King are in "advanced talks" that could lead to a media venture between the two, a close aide to the Mexican businessman told Reuters.
Arturo Elias Ayub, Slim's chief spokesman, said on Friday that the pair had been working on the plan for a few months, although he declined to give further details. The venture could possibly be announced in the first quarter.
"There are advanced talks between the Slim group and Larry's group," Elias Ayub said. "At the right time, if this comes through, we will announce what it is about."
Slim has been blocked from offering television in Mexico by the Mexican government but is boosting the profile of his web-streaming operation, arousing the ire of rivals during the Pan American Games by streaming competition live.
He has also taken a stake in content for the first time, with the purchase of digital media firm DLA, operator of RushHD and the Concert Channel.
Slim struck up a friendship with King when the world's richest man invited the broadcaster to speak at his 2010 annual gathering, where guests share their views with thousands of students, many of whom enjoy a scholarship from one of Slim's charitable foundations.
King has visited Slim several times in Mexico City, where the tycoon has hosted long dinners accompanied by mezcal shots, according to others present, and has taken King on private visits to his vast art collection.
Last year, King and his wife were invited to host the inauguration of Slim's flashy Soumaya museum before 1,500 guests in the capital. The venue holds more than 60,000 art pieces, including one of the world's most extensive collections of Auguste Rodin sculptures.
CONTENT IS KING
Slim, no stranger to tweaking his strategies as businesses evolve, is the main provider of pay-television in Latin America, where he offers cable and satellite services to around 13 million customers.
The DLA acquisition by his America Movil cell phone giant last year was seen by analysts as an aggressive move into the content market, making him the owner of one of the most important show suppliers to Spanish and Portuguese-language television in the region.
The adoption in Latin America of tablets and smartphones is boosting the use of data and content too.
A potential deal with King, an experienced journalist with a strong following mostly in the United States but known to a much limited audience in Latin America, could help Slim shape up a news-gathering organization from Mexico.
Slim's "strategy to diversify the business is clearer than ever and competing in content, an area long-domained by Televisa and TV Azteca, could put (Slim and the two broadcasters) on alert," said professor and telecom analyst Gabriel Sosa Plata.
The three media companies staged a bitter fight in 2011 for supremacy in the Mexican telecom industry. Televisa and TV Azteca want a slice of Slim's mobile phone pie. Slim, which already offers fixed and mobile phone service as well as Internet in Mexico, needs TV to round out a full package of offerings in his home country.
Mexican telecom regulator Cofetel is expected to look more closely this year at Slim's free web streaming, particularly that from Uno Noticias, a web-based channel with sports talk shows and newscasts.
Uno Noticias has been running for the past few years a state-of-the-art studio in the southern part of Mexico City with a full staff of reporters and commentators. Many see this as Slim's ready-to-go option when he gets government approval to offer TV in Mexico.
(Reporting by Cyntia Barrera Diaz; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Bernard Orr)