Mexico Planning Television Channel Auction

A regulatory agency's plan to auction two channels would create much-needed competition in Mexico's TV market.

MEXICO CITY -- Telecom and TV regulator Cofetel on Wednesday announced plans to auction two nationwide television channels, which could mean competition for Mexican media giants Televisa and TV Azteca.

A Cofetel statement said this marks "the first auction of television frequencies in the history of the country." The regulatory agency added that its decision is based on a need to foment competition and diversity of content. It remains unclear, however, if Mexico's television duopoly of Televisa and TV Azteca will be allowed to participate in the bidding. Together the two networks control 95% of the nation's broadcast TV market. 

Earlier this year, Cofetel conducted a public poll asking, among other questions, if Mexico's over-the-air TV offering is sufficient. About 90% of the participants said no. 

Mexican telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim, the world's richest man, is looking to crack the television market but has been banned from doing so due to competition concerns. Televisa chairman Emilio Azcarraga recently said at an industry event that he welcomes competition. 

New players in the market would be huge for Mexico. Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest Televisa and TV Azteca's coverage of an upcoming presidential election. They say the networks have used their dominant position to support a front-running candidate.

Critics also point out that competition will push the broadcasters, which lean heavily on telenovela programming, to produce a wider range of content.