Argentina TV Offers Opportunities Rich With Challenges.

Author:SERAFINI, DOM
 
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The reason Buenos Aires lacks any street signs, at least in the opinion of one local taxi driver, can be attributed to the fact that most Argentineans are of Italian origin: "If the signs were in place, no one would respect them anyway," the driver commented.

Indeed, almost half of the 34 million Argentineans are said to be eligible for Italian passports. One running joke is that an Argentinean is an Italian who speaks Spanish and thinks he's British. However, despite a large Italian population (one million already travel with Italian passports), Italian companies are virtually invisible on Argentina's media landscape which is shared mostly by Spain (TISA), Venezuela (Cisneros Group) and the U.S. (CEI, TCI).

Saving money on street signs, though, could help Argentina's public debt, which has now reached a record $115 billion. And since the street signs would most likely be imported from Brazil (a sour point), Argentina could also be saving on its foreign debt, which is now $77 billion. Add to this a 10 percent drop in industrial production (in the first quarter of '99), and one could well declare that Argentina is in the midst of a deep depression.

Fear of inflation has kept the peso tied to the U.S. dollar, making everything too expensive to produce locally and driving unemployment up (unofficially estimated at 20 percent, the official figures are 14.5 percent).

People wonder why the government can't emulate Brazil, which devalued its currency and managed to keep inflation at bay. This and high taxes, however, will be issues for the next government. Citizens will hit the polls late this month to elect a new president, choosing between one candidate considered "undesirable" and another perceived as "weak." In the opinion of one Azul TV executive, all this combined makes for "the toughest year since 1994."

Nevertheless, compared to the period when Buenos Aires was falling apart in the late '80s/early '90s, this time some of the world's top media players have converged upon Argentina. Its relatively high income levels have become attractive to multinational conglomerates. In addition, there are 10 million "big spenders" between the ages of 10 and 24. Argentina's "Generation Y" is a cross-section that differs from generation X in the U.S. and generation N in other Latin American countries only by its level of sophistication.

Argentineans like to point out that Buenos Aires is the most European city in Latin America, as well as the most...

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