New gov't puts Telemundo hopes on hold

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MEXICO CITY -- Telemundo's ongoing effort to enter Mexico's broadcast TV market suffered a blow Friday when Communications Secretary Luis Tellez said that a concession for a third national network is not a high priority for the new government.

Tellez told reporters at a Mexico City news conference that President Felipe Calderon's administration, which took office Dec. 1, is looking at authorizing television and radio spectrum for local and regional coverage, despite a recommendation by Mexico's Federal Competition Commission that a third national network is sorely needed to create more competition in broadcast television.

Earlier this year, NBC Universal's Telemundo, the No. 2 Spanish-language broadcaster in the U.S., and its Mexican partner Grupo Xtra, requested a broadcast license to operate a third national channel in Mexico.

Tellez did not entirely rule out the possibility, however, he noted that "there is no mention of a third (national) channel" in President Calderon's "100 commitments."

Televisa and TV Azteca, often referred to as Mexico's television duopoly, control about 95% of the nation's commercial TV stations.

This month, Televisa and TV Azteca have run a series of news programs attacking Grupo Xtra's pharmaceutical subsidiary Grupo Casa Saba, owned by the Saba family. The news reports accuse Grupo Casa Saba of price-gouging in the pharmaceutical industry. A TV Azteca program criticized General Electric, which owns a majority stake in Telemundo parent company NBC Universal, for allegedly engaging in "monopolistic practices."

GE responded by taking out full-page ads in Mexican newspapers. "This use of the media only confirms the consensus about the need for more competition in Mexican television," GE said.

Televisa and TV Azteca insist they are open to competition and they say the news reports are not related to the Saba family and Telemundo's interests in entering the television market.

Televisa is U.S. Spanish-language broadcaster Univision's main programming supplier. TV Azteca operates network Azteca America stateside. Telemundo president Don Browne has said on numerous occasions that his company is seeking the same type of programming opportunities in Mexico that the Mexican media outfits have enjoyed in the U.S.

Telemundo had no immediate comment Friday.
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