HBO Latin America Group has agreed to restore its movie channels HBO and Cinemax to leading Argentinian cable operators Multicanal and Cablevision after boycotting Argentina's cable industry for the past 18 months.

HBO and Cinemax pulled out of the Argentine market in January 1999 in protest against the lack of encrypted tiering which obliged them to form part of a basic cable package and earn low basic fees.

From August 1, Multicanal and Cablevision subscribers with set-top boxes will receive both channels as premium services. "This is an historic moment," said Ele Juarez, president and CEO of HBO Latin America Group and a key player in the protracted negotiations.

Since early 1999, the two channels have been solely available on DTH satellite platform Galaxy Latin America (GLA) and some smaller cable operators that agreed to carry them as premium services. GLA has an estimated 180,000 subscribers in Argentina, while Multicanal and Cablevision have nearly half a million.

Rival movie channel Cinecanal, co-owned by Universal and Paramount among others, saw its ratings leap 59% after its rivals pulled out.

Argentina is the most heavily cabled territory in Latin America with penetration at about 33.5%. HBO Latin America Group is jointly owned by Time Warner, Sony Pictures, Walt Disney Company and Venezuela-based Ole Communications Group.