Spanish TV webs declare war on ratings

MADRID Many television mar-

kets are suffering through ratings wars, but in Spain the networks have declared war on ratings.

The bulk of Spain’s national webs and regional broadcasters are breaking away from the national ratings service, called Sofres, and launching their own system. The revolt appears to be as much a product of the fierce competition for ratings than any insurmountable problem with the current service.

Tele 5 and public web TVE have led the ratings mutiny, which is rounded out by four of six regional stations. Although the timing of their complaints coincides with the audience surge of their chief competitor, Antena 3, the stations say their gripes are not sour grapes.

Antena 3 has its doubts.

The revolt occurred “precisely when Antena 3 has achieved more than 25% audience share, threatens the dominance of TVE and has passed all the other channels,” according to Ricardo Visedo, a senior director at Antena 3.

In Spain, Sofres is an independent company. Broadcasters and advertisers have input through a users committee but exercise no direct control over the service.

The disaffected stations would like to have that changed.

“The one who pays must be the owner and titleholder of the company. The television stations will decide the type of measurement and parameters that should be used,” said Valerio Lazarov, director general of Tele 5.

Sofres, with its experience running ratings services in France, Portugal and Belgium, was welcomed with open arms into the Spanish market. However, trouble began after Sofres completed its promise to broadcasters to expand its sample by 500 homes and modified its data delivery system to clients.

Most of Sofres’ nearly 60 customers feel confident the company has effectively addressed most of the technical glitches and do not dispute its numbers.

But just before Christmas, the stations made their move. Complaining of continued lack of reliability and excessive costs, Tele 5, TVE and the four regional broadcasters announced they would accept bids this month for an alternative service. Sofres was invited to bid but refused.

“If we agree to participate in the auction, it would be recognizing that we did something wrong,” said Francis Huss, director general of Sofres.

Should Tele 5 and TVE pull out when their contracts expire at the end of this year, Sofres would be faced with an immediate financial crisis. All of its $ 10 million annual budget is from user fees, and Tele 5 and TVE are two of its biggest clients.

The one thing all sides seem to agree on is that the Spanish market cannot support two rating services, and without the support of advertisers any new system is doomed. Right now, tensions are high, but a compromise is possible. One solution could be to allow the broadcasters to buy into Sofres, gaining partial control. If no deal is reached, Sofres says it is prepared to fight.

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