TVE 1, ANT 3 run neck & neck

When “Home Improvement” airs this fall in its stellar primetime slot on pubcaster TVE, it could risk raising as many eyebrows as laughs. Save for Fox’s “The X-Files,” primetime outings in Spain for U.S. shows are now few and far between.

Pubcaster Radio Television Espanola (RTVE) and ambitious private web Antena 3 TV in particular fill their primetime slots with domestic programming. They are locked in a bitter ratings war. April 1995 saw Antena 3 TV pull ahead of TVE 1, RTVE’s more commercially oriented channel, for only the third month in its history. TVE has since hit back to retake the number one channel slot, its 27.4% audience share besting TVE 1’s 26.8%.

The key to Spain’s broadcasting landscape is the financing future of giant RTVE. Spain has no TV license fee. RTVE’s director general Jordi Garcia Candau has slashed jobs at the broadcaster and is tub-thumping for debt-laden RTVE to be financed through a “mixed” model of state subsidy and capped advertising revenues. Private webs Antena 3 TV and Tele 5 support this structure, which would free up advertising for their coffers.

The Berlusconi/Kirch-controlled Tele 5 has claimed a small profit, 323 million peseta ($2.5 million) for the first half of 1995. Having cut costs, it is courting a major Spanish partner to inject new energy into its ratings, which have languished at 19.03% in 1994.

Meanwhile, Spanish giant pay TV web Canal Plus Espana, a joint venture between Canal Plus France (25%) and leading Spanish media group Prisa (25%), continues to be one of the unquestionable successes in Spain’s broadcasting landscape, passing 1 million subscribers early in 1995.

In such a competitive environment, dominated by domestic programming, Spanish buyers make their choices increasingly carefully.

“We can’t pay what some American distributors want for programs,” says Paloma Garcia, head of Acquisitions at Antena 3 TV, “even if it’s a fantastic, high-budget show that’s worked real well in the States. We’re not going to pay the prices of the past because American shows simply aren’t working well in Spanish primetime.”

“Prices have gone down in the last two years in Spain,” says one Spanish-TV distrib. “But if a big buyer really wants something, then they’ll still pay big bucks.”

Top foreign TV movies fetch some $45,000 in Spain; a feature film blockbuster heading up a 20-film package could go for $2.4 million, and a B picture for $420,000-$500,000. Half-hour dramas could sell for approximately $15,000, while good hour dramas could go for $40,000 per seg. A miniseries hour sells for $25,000, said one source.

At Antena 3, some 25% of the net’s bought-in movies, miniseries and sitcoms come from the U.S. Quality long-running series, formats (such as “Cops”), TV movies and especially miniseries will be on Antena 3 TV’s shopping list for Mipcom.

Antena 3 TV strips U.S. sitcoms at 2 and 2:30 p.m., plus between 3:30-5: 30 p.m., a foreign “Movie of the Week.” Antena 3 doesn’t screen documentaries, but has reversioned gameshow formats from Italy (“El Gran Juego de la Oca”), the U.K. (Channel 4’s “Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush”) and U.S.

There are some signs, however, of selective moves back to U.S. acquisitions. RTVE will create once-a-week slots for the U.S. TV movies or series. Output deals from Warner, Disney and MCA provide a big share of RTVE’s programming needs. Ortiz says that RTVE “buys little outside these deals.”

According to company sources, TVE-2, RTVE’s more cultural web, will up docu slots to 22 hours per week.

Canal Plus Espana, will eye quality sport, film, nature and social documentaries as likely acquisitions at Mipcom.

Canal Plus is now buying TV movies for 1996. “We’re looking for family-oriented movies, which have been the most successful,” says Elena Manrique, responsible for TV movies. Canal Plus Espana acquired two, “Tales From the World” from Canal Plus France and the Western “Good Men and Bad” from Robert Halmi’s RHI.

At Mipcom, Canal Plus Espana will also be looking for animation aimed at children with a funky new edge, but also including adult animation, such as “Duckman.”

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