LATIN AMERICA: MEDIA'S FEARED AND REVERED - Kate Burnett and Pablo Conde profile four of the biggest and most powerful media owners

Kate Burnett and Pablo Conde profile four of the biggest and most powerful media owners from Latin America and review their plans for the expansion of their media empires in the future.

CLARIN: Argentine asset

Grupo Clarin was possibly more respected than revered for its position in Argentina's media. However, even the strongest companies there have needed more than mere respect or reverence to cushion the impact of the country's economic implosion in 2001-2 and the ensuing inevitable social and political unrest.

Today, the country once considered as Latin America's most advanced business nation is still reeling from its devastating impact, although slight signs of recovery are beginning to surface. Grupo Clarin encompasses one of the nation's leading newspapers, the eponymous Clarin, as well as Elle, the terrestrial TV network Artear and pay-TV through Multicanal. With cable TV penetration in Argentina among the highest in the world at more than 60 per cent, Multicanal's stock was rising among Clarin's holdings.

However, as well as the inevitable negative impact on advertising and readership in TV and print media, the crisis saw some pay-TV services lose as many as one million subscribers in this key Latin market. As the peso plummeted, Multicanal's losses, at 18 per cent of subscribers were even more pronounced than its competitor Cablevision's 9 per cent. Losses were stemmed when Clarin defaulted on its debts, which had reportedly grown from two to six times its billings, and called in JP Morgan as administrator.

CISNEROS: Venerated in Venezuela

As befits his position as one of the wealthiest men in the world (worth $4 billion, according to Forbes magazine last month), Gustavo Cisneros has a formidable reputation in his native Venezuela; not just as a media mogul but also as an outspoken opponent of the country's controversial leader, Hugo Chavez.

Political interests aside, Cisneros is the head of a vast range of more than 70 businesses that stretch from Coca-Cola bottling to AOL via Venevision, the country's leading TV network.

The company was founded by Diego Cisneros in 1929. Venezuela is not one of the top three Latin markets but the Cisneros group has strategically developed its media interests at local and international level, in terrestrial as well as pay-TV. With the US Latin market on the verge of becoming the largest ethnic minority, Cisneros' share in Univision, one of the two US Latin networks, could prove even more lucrative in the future. Cisneros is also one of the principal shareholders in AOLA, American Online Latin America, a joint venture with AOL Time Warner that offers its services in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Puerto Rico. Its pay-TV interests range from the Latin American satellite service DirecTV to Claxson Interactive, which offers Latin viewers 14 pay-TV channels, ranging from the educational outlet Cl@se to the Playboy channel.

TELEVISA: Mexican might

Despite the wave of economic recession that has hit Latin America and its impact on the telecoms and broadband industries, Televisa has reported a net profit of $1.8 million during 2002, of which $1 million came from Open TV ad sales.

Televisa dominates the telenovela market, bringing in revenues of $32,500 from licensing to other broadcasters of the region during the last quarter of 2002. In the domestic market TV Azteca, its biggest competitor, has consolidated a share in the market, although not enough to displace Televisa.

There are now six novelas from Televisa flooding almost every market in Latin America and, in some cases, reaching 55 per cent of the primetime audience.

Televisa's other key media properties, Cablevision (a cable operator with 550,000 subscribers), Innova-Sky (a satellite operator, with 699,000 subscribers), Visat (a pay-TV programming producer) and (an internet portal), have performed differently but have been able to balance a marginal downturn due to difficult economic conditions.

However, the best cash-flow generators of the group were Open TV (Televisa) and distribution of pay-TV programming (Visat).

Jean Paul Broc, the chief executive of Visat, says: "Owing to market conditions, cable and international programming sales have not been performing well, which has led to changes in our strategy; the market has shown us that we have to reinforce those operations within Televisa with higher potential for growth in the international arena.

"All channels offered by Visat have been a great success and there is considerable demand for the product." Proof of this is the upcoming launch of several of Visat's channels through different cable networks in the US's five principal pay-TV markets.

GLOBO: Big in Brazil

Any company that takes as much as an 80 per cent share of any media market might well provoke fear, not to mention awe or even incredulity.

But since its dominance has been reduced to more normal business levels (a mere 50 per cent, say), there might be room for a little more reverence to temper any fear inspired by Globo.

Globo's unassailable position in the Brazilian market - the second largest in the Americas after the US - has grown from simple beginnings when the newspaper O Globo was founded by Roberto Marinho in Rio in 1925. Globo SA's holdings are now valued at $6.4 billion.

As well as O Globo and its radio and television networks, the group also includes the magazine publisher Editora Globo, and pay-TV interests in both content (Globosat) and delivery (GloboCabo). While not directly managed by the Marinho family, Roberto's three sons are still involved in directing the company's strategic development.

Despite a drop in share, Globo is still estimated to take more than 70 per cent of TV ad revenue. Estimates put its total revenues for 2001 at $2.8 billion, $2 billion of that coming from TV. Brazil's potential as an economic powerhouse, not to mention strategic alliances with Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates, confirm Globo's standing as a world-class media giant.