Sogecable & WB tie digital TV knot

MADRID — The digital TV picture in Spain has just become sharper.

Up-and-running digital player Sogecable has just inked a far-reaching deal with Warner Bros., beating out rival Telefonica to a long-term exclusive relationship with the No. 1 U.S. supplier of movies and TV shows.

As part of the long-term agreement, Warner Bros. Intl. TV is licensing pay TV, pay-per-view and near video-on-demand rights in Spain for feature films to Sogecable’s digital satellite platform Canal Satelite Digital (CSD) and its pay TV offshoot Canal Plus Espana. Titles include “Mars Attacks!,” “Batman & Robin,” “Eraser” and “The Bridges of Madison County.”

Although neither Sogecable general manager Ele Juarez nor WBIT president Jeffrey Schlesinger would talk specifics, sources say the deal runs for a 10-year period and is worth as much as $500 million. Sogecable already boasts 90,000 subscribers to its service, after only six months of operation.

The deal in Spain comes just as the digital TV market in Germany gets a huge boost from cooperative agreements between the Kirch Group, Bertelsmann and Deutsche Telekom (see story, page 7). After some early snags, the digital TV business is being jumpstarted elsewhere in Europe as well, notably in France, Britain and Italy.

Seller’s market

“The magnitude of this Spanish deal is easily comparable to our recent deals in Germany and France,” Schlesinger told Daily Variety. He added that the competition in Spain is currently “very aggressive” and that the players are prepared to pay over-the-odds to secure deals with key suppliers.

“This agreement is fundamental for the development of pay television in Spain as well as for the future of digital television,” Juarez said.

Sogecable already has an analogous alliance with Disney and other arrangements for future product with Polygram and DreamWorks. Rival Telefonica has yet to clinch long-term deals with any top U.S. supplier. It launches its digital platform, called Via Digital, in September.

The Warners deal in Spain with Sogecable also calls for the carriage of three cable channels from Turner Broadcasting — Cartoon Network, TNT and CNN Intl.

Door-opener

The deal between Warners and Sogecable also will open up other forms of collaboration between the two. Warners, for example, may have an option to take an equity stake in the platform, though neither party would confirm that possibility. The two companies are talking about the co-production of Spanish feature films and TV movies. And with the license for Warner Espanola lapsing in December, the two also may be considering a joint theatrical distribution venture in Spain.

A Sogecable press release Wednesday simply said: “Further agreements between Sogecable and Warner Bros. will be announced in the next week.”

Schlesinger said Josh Berger, VP of business development & pay TV for Europe, and Ron Miele, VP of business and legal affairs, were instrumental in closing the deal on behalf of Warners.

Sogecable is the largest private film and TV company in Spain and is primarily bankrolled by French paybox Canal Plus (25%) and Spanish media conglom Prisa (25%). Digital platform CSD is a joint venture between Sogecable (85%) and Spanish commercial broadcaster Antena 3 (15%).

The big question raised by the Sogecable deal with Warners is where it leaves rival digital player Via Digital.

A joint venture of Spanish telco Telefonica, pubcaster RTVE and Mexico’s Televisa, Via Digital has launched a massive ad campaign in Spain trumpeting its September launch.

But the onus is now on Via Digital to sign some major supplier deals fast, or face the prospect that rival CSD could wrap up all the major Hollywood suppliers for its own platform.

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