Spain's La Sexta eyes pay TV license

Move would result in revamped Hogar TV

MADRID -- Spanish broadcaster La Sexta said Monday that it will submit a request this week to change its terrestrial digital TV license to that of a pay channel, taking advantage of the government's call for applications.

The move could see the broadcaster's free TDT channel Hogar TV turn pay by summer, offering soccer matches and events in a revamped channel called Gol TV.

Gol TV would strike a serious blow to Prisa, Spain's largest media group, which has seen its attempts to jettison its satcaster, Digital Plus, stagnate after potential buyers refused to pay what the group needs to pay off its debt.

La Sexta controlling shareholder Mediapro owns the lion's share of Spanish professional league rights, in addition with a wide range of blue-chip sporting events -- including Formula 1 and EuroBasket -- and long-ago declared a rights war on Prisa, which had the pay TV market locked up until now.

Soccer-crazed Spain makes the sporting rights lucrative on a pay-per-view basis, as well as a way to push subscriber numbers upward.

Gol TV will allow Mediapro to go head to head with Prisa's Digital Plus, but still sees the fledgling channel up against a stalwart that boasts 2.1 million subscribers.

According to a spokeswoman for Spain's Ministry of Industry, the avenue for switching the licenses to pay channels was always open, but "before there was no will on the part of the government to change the licenses. Now there is."

The government is preparing for the analog blackout in April 2010, when all operators will be forced to switch to TDT.

Ironically, the procedure Mediapro will use to switch its license is the same that Prisa used to switch its pay channel Canal Plus to free-to-air Cuatro three years ago.
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