MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Though he is struggling to break into the television market on his home turf, Mexico's Carlos Slim has emerged as the top provider of pay TV in Latin America, firming his grip on the region's telecom market.
Having picked up 11 million pay TV customers in 16 of 18 Latin American nations over the past two years, Slim, the world's richest man, has taken the lead in yet another lucrative market outside his core phone business.
Mexico -- where the government has refused to let Slim expand into media due to competition concerns -- and Argentina are the two countries where he does not currently has TV.
Modern technology is enabling Slim, who also has major holdings in retail and important sectors of industry, to offer phone, television, cable and Internet via a single connection.
This innovation has blurred the boundaries between once separate markets, creating conflict and raising doubts about the sustainability of returns in the telecoms sector.
Taking advantage of a 2010 cost-cutting drive that put his telecom firms under the aegis of the America Movil giant, Slim is flooding Latin America with offers via satellite or cable, often combined with phone and Internet, known as triple pay.
"Pay television is growing, in revenue terms, about 60 percent annually," America Movil <AMX.N><AMXL.MX> Chief Financial Officer Carlos Garcia Moreno told the Reuters Latin American Investment Summit in Mexico City this week.
America Movil is adding about 250,000 pay TV customers every month, a pace analysts do not expect to slacken as the company expands in countries like Peru, Ecuador, and Chile with its one-stop communications and entertainment offer.
The surging business contributed 2.2 percent of America Movil's service revenues last year, or about $985 million.
Slim already has 225 million wireless clients from the United States to Argentina, which contributed nearly half the $45 billion total service revenue of America Movil last year.
Julio Zetina at brokerage Vector said he expected pay television and demand for online data to be the two main sources of growth for America Movil in future.
"And I think we'll eventually see something here," he said, referring to Slim's entry into the Mexican television market.
Some say he is already present thanks to a billing deal that his Telefonos de Mexico <TMX.N><TELMEXL.MX> fixed-line service provides to direct-to-home TV provider DISH Mexico.
For the immediate future, Slim is expected to focus his attention on Brazil, Latin America's biggest economy.
"We have Net Servicos <NETC4.SA>, the leading cable firm there, with a 50 percent market share. Half of our clients there already have triple play," said CFO Garcia Moreno.
Among Slim's closest competitors in the field of pay television across Latin America are DIRECTV, which has around 6 million subscribers, as well as Spain's Telefonica <TEF.MC> and Mexico's Grupo Televisa <TLVACPO.MX><TV.N>.
Slim's efforts to formally establish a TV presence at home have been complicated by an escalating war with Mexican media moguls over his stranglehold on local telecommunications.
One television advert launched by a secretive lobby named "All the Mexicans" shows angry mobile phone clients launching expletive-laden tirades against his brand, standing in front of Slim's phone stores and his newly opened art museum.
"The recent escalation in the struggle for markets in the Mexican telecom and media industry has brought an additional level of uncertainty to the overall equity value of the sector," Santander analyst Gregorio Tomassi wrote in a report.
However, analysts are not too concerned yet about the long-term impact of this tug-of-war on Slim's public holdings.
"This has a very strong political component. But eventually (Slim's entry into Mexican television) will be approved." said Banorte's Hermosillo. "It is not a question of if, but when."
(Editing by Gary Hill)