MADRID — Cable TV has finally taken off in Spain. The Development Ministry this week awarded the country’s first cable TV franchises to Cable i Televisio de Catalunya (CTC), a consortium led by cable operator Cableuropa and the Catalan government.
The three franchises cover the whole of Catalonia, the largest region of Spain and one of the wealthiest.
The winner was no surprise: CTC was the only applicant for the franchise. The move, announced Tuesday, makes CTC the region’s second cable operator after Spanish telco Telefonica, which has an option to operate cable services throughout Spain.
But the award follows years of government dithering over authorizing cable in Spain, pussyfooting that was designed under socialist Premier Felipe Gonzalez to enable over-the-air pay TV, in the form of Canal Plus Spain, to take hold in the country.
Having applied for nine of the 10 regional franchises offered by Spain’s conservative government, Cableuropa looks set to sweep most cable licenses in Spain.
Cableuropa is a powerful partnership of top Spanish banks Banco Central Hispano (BCH, 20%), the Banco Santander (27.5%) and U.S. consortium Spainco (32.6%), made up of General Electric, the Bank of America and Callahan Associates.
With only 428,000 cable homes connected in Spain, two-thirds to provisional low-grade cable systems such as community video links, Spain has one of the lowest cable TV market penetrations in Europe: 3.6%.
The success of cable TV in Spain will depend on the attractiveness of operators packaging cable TV and basic telephony services, a combo authorized from January 1998, and the ability of Cableuropa to access subscribers to Spain’s digital TV platforms.
Cableuropa prexy Eugenio Galdon recently met with Martin Bangemann, the European Union’s Telecommunications Technology commissioner, to express fears about Spain’s two digital TV platforms, Sogecable’s CanalSatelite Digital and Telefonica’s Via Digital, adopting proprietary-access set-top boxes.
If this happens, Galdon argued, Cableuropa could be barred access to the platforms’ subscribers, who would be unwilling to dig deep into their pockets for additional technology to receive Cableuropa’s services.