Jan. 14 2019 — The Latin America multichannel and broadband industry is heading into 2019 with positive headwinds. Demand for convergent services and economic recovery in larger markets should drive industry growth in 2019. The big caveat is the economy, with external shocks threatening to decelerate economic growth. Amid this environment, we expect the M&A market to remain active, with transactions in Mexico and Central America highly likely. New virtual multichannel, satellite broadband and IPTV services should also gain a foothold in the region.
Pay TV and broadband growth trend strengthens in 2019
Kagan estimates Latin America's multichannel and broadband subscriber bases should expand during 2019, with broadband net adds projected to be almost double those of multichannel. The trend toward convergent services is expected to help cable regain strength in the multichannel market, accounting for the majority of net additions. Multichannel revenues are forecast to grow, with Argentina, Brazil and Mexico expected to be the biggest contributors to multichannel revenue growth. The importance of fiber technologies is rising, concentrating the highest share of fixed broadband net additions during 2019.
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Economy: Outlook for 2019
The World Bank projects Latin American and Caribbean GDP will expand 2.3% during 2019. However, deteriorating external conditions and local challenges might hinder economic growth. Recovering private consumption and investments should drive GDP growth in the region for 2019, although foreign exchange volatility and rising financing costs could weaken this trend. Prospects for fiscal consolidation in Argentina and Brazil remain challenging due to political opposition, especially in Argentina, where general elections are to be held in October. Venezuela's economic prospects remain dire, worsened by the recent drop in oil prices.
M&A: Mexico and Central America to remain active
The possibility of Telefónica SA divesting its Mexican and Central American operations, along with Millicom International Cellular SA's and Liberty Latin America Ltd.'s continued competition for acquisition targets in Central America to strengthen their positions in the region, raises the prospects for active Latin American M&A in 2019. Investment funds and Latin American telecommunication groups seem to be competing for Telefónica's assets in Mexico and Central America. Liberty Latin America is actively looking for acquisition opportunities in Latin America through its Chilean subsidiary VTR and is cited as a potential buyer for Telefónica assets, along with competitors Millicom, Entel Chile and AT&T Inc., although the latter may be barred in Mexico due to the mobile market concentration that would result.
AT&T Inc.'s acquisition of Time Warner Inc. may also lead to changes in its Latin American operations. After the failed IPO of DIRECTV Latin America LLC (now named Vrio) in 2018, the company may still need to divest some assets in Brazil due to local regulations preventing pay TV operations from owning content producers.
Brazilian regulator Anatel also raised spectrum caps at the end of 2018, opening up the country's mobile market for consolidation. Embattled former iDEN carrier Nextel Telecomunicações SA has been looking for a buyer for years, and Telecom Italia SpA's TIM Participações SA has already announced it has made an initial offer. Regional telco Sercomtel Telecom may also choose to sell its spectrum assets — which may be allowed if a telecom reform bill currently under discussion in the Senate is passed — or even the whole company.
In Argentina, regulatory conditions for the approval of Telecom Argentina's merger with Cablevisión Argentina may lead the company to divest many assets in 2019. The operator must sell off its fixed broadband business in 28 areas of the country where the merger could affect competition, as well as excess wireless spectrum above the regulatory cap.
A final ruling by the Court of Cundinamarca put to rest the Bogotá municipality's proposal to sell Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Bogotá SA ESP, or ETB. The court cited irregularities in the approval of the proposal as its basis to nullify the decision. Nevertheless, the court said the ruling does not prohibit the sale of ETB, but that the municipality will have to initiate a new approval process to achieve it.
Effects of election results
The election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico introduced some uncertainty into the Latin American political picture. Both presidents are in the opposite side of the political spectrum, Bolsonaro on the right and AMLO on the left. Nevertheless, both candidates ran on a populist agenda, with ambitious campaign promises that pose a risk to fiscal discipline. Ivan Duque, Colombia's new president, is likely to maintain his predecessor's market-friendly policies, while Argentina's Mauricio Macri's inability to implement fiscal reform may cost him the presidency in general elections in October 2019.
In the telecommunications sector, AMLO pledged to promote market efficiency and close the gap in access to telecommunications, whereas Bolsonaro's program remains vague on issues related to media and telecommunications.
LatAm countries with upcoming 2019 elections
DIRECTV Latin America launched Latin America's first virtual multichannel services in November in Colombia and Chile. The company is expected to expand the offer, DIRECTV Go, to Argentina and other Latin American markets during 2019. Telecom Argentina executives have also hinted that the company's video-on-demand/TV Everywhere service, Cablevisión Flow, which offers over 200 linear channels to pay TV subscribers, may soon be launched as a virtual multichannel service for nonsubscribers.
Telefónica has also been quietly rolling out access to its TV Everywhere platform, which includes several linear channels, to nonpay TV subscribers in some Latin American markets, such as Central America and Chile. The Movistar Play Full offer is available as a value-added service to Telefónica’s mobile and fixed broadband, and to voice subscribers for an extra fee.
Penetration of residential satellite broadband is set to increase as more Ka-band satellites become available in the region and new operators enter the market. Hughes Communications Inc. continued to expand its HughesNet service, launched in Brazil in 2016 and Colombia in 2017, to Peru and Ecuador during 2018. Competitors Al Yah Satellite Communication Co. PJSC and ViaSat Inc. also began operating in the Brazilian market during 2018, while satellite operator Hispasat SA launched a white-label service in the region.
Dish México announced it would partner with Hispasat SA and Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd. to launch satellite broadband service in Mexico. Dish México will leverage Amazonas 5, Hispasat's high-throughput satellite, to reach underserved markets. Amazonas 5 has the potential to reach 77% of Mexico's population. The broadband service will use Gilat's SkyEdge II-c platform to provide high-value services to Mexican consumers and small and medium-sized enterprises.
Following new regulations allowing telcos to offer multichannel services, Claro Argentina and Telefónica de Argentina SA launched IPTV offers during 2018, but coverage remains limited, as convergent services were initially only permitted in the major cities of Buenos Aires, Rosário and Córdoba, in order to protect small operators in other regions. In 2019, this will be expanded to cities with populations below 600,000. Delays in passing a telecoms reform bill allowing telcos to offer DTH may lead the two companies to abandon plans for a national satellite pay TV offer, choosing to focus on high-end convergent services based on their growing fiber networks.
Meanwhile, Argentina's largest player, Telecom Argentina, will be allowed to offer convergent services only in 2019, as part of antitrust regulators' restrictions for approval of its merger with Cablevisión Argentina.
IPTV gets a boost from new Telefónica strategy
Telefónica made a strategic decision during 2017 to prioritize investments in fiber deployments to power ultrafast broadband and IPTV services, as well as expanding its VOD portfolio for fiber-based subscribers with STB-embedded over-the-top services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. Based on this, as well as the continued entry of new players and migration of many existing telco and cable networks to fiber, we revised our IPTV forecast up for 2019.
In Brazil and Argentina, "mini-reform" bills for the telecommunications industry remain stalled in Congress but are expected to finally be approved in 2019. Argentina's "Ley Corta," as it became known for being a reduced version of the government's originally proposed telecoms reforms, allows telcos to offer direct-to-home services in major cities starting in 2020, with gradual expansion to smaller towns up to 2022. Although passed by the Senate in July 2018, the bill, which also bans exclusive network agreements in order to encourage network sharing, among other measures, still awaits voting in the Chamber of Deputies.
Meanwhile, the Brazilian Senate is expected to resume discussions on the PLC 79 bill, which have been frozen since 2016. The reform would require telcos Telefônica Brasil and Oi SA to migrate their public fixed telephony concession contracts to a private service authorization contract, as is the case with their mobile and broadband businesses. In exchange, the companies would have to invest in broadband expansion the value of the public fixed telephony infrastructure they would be incorporating. The value of these "reversionary assets" and where these investments should be made are to be defined by the regulator Anatel and may take a year to implement. The PLC 79 bill also tackles several other measures favored by the industry, including a reduction in tariffs for satellite broadband services, which is expected to encourage more competitive prices, allowing telcos to sell spectrum assets and exempting broadcasters from regulatory tariffs.
The Mexican Congress reduced the annual budget for the telecommunications regulator, Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones, or IFT, by 25% compared to 2018. The budget cut would weaken the IFT amid regulatory battles with América Móvil SAB de CV's Teléfonos de México SA de CVand other important Mexican players.
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Global Multichannel is a service of Kagan, a group within S&P Global Market Intelligence's TMT offering.
This piece was published by S&P Global Market Intelligence and not by S&P Global Ratings, which is a separately managed division of S&P Global.