Veo, Net to launch in second half of 2001 as digital feeds

MADRID — Spain’s vibrant TV market galloped past a watershed Nov. 24 when Jose Maria Aznar’s center-right government awarded two TV franchises.

One went to a consortium, Veo TV, led by daily newspaper El Mundo and publishing group Recoletos. A second license winner, Net TV, teams daily ABC with top Spanish production houses, Arbol and Cartel-Telson.

The two channels will launch in the second half of 2001 as digital feeds.

Three powerful foreign groups have fortified their grip in Spain. The U.K.’s Pearson and Italy’s Rizzoli control Recoletos and El Mundo, respectively. Producer Europroducciones is a minority partner in Net TV.

Joining Quiero TV, a new DTT operator, and nascent cable feeds AOC and ONO, Net and Veo have sent producers scrambling to ally and conquer a TV market which will soon show a gargantuan appetite for product.Spain’s two established commercial networks — Tele 5, Antena 3 — have never had it so good, posting first half 2000 ad receipts of $297 million and $290 million, respectively. But with two new rivals they are already repositioning themselves as producers, and diversifying into new business.

In people terms, the real victor of the TV franchise awards may be the 48-year-old editor of El Mundo, Pedro J. Ramirez, known in Spain quite simply as Pedro J.

According to a survey among Spanish execs in July, Ramirez is the most influential journalist in Spain and the eighth most powerful person in the country.In 1996, he helped the election defeat of Felipe Gonzalez’s socialists after 14 years of power by demonstrating their misuse of state moneys to fund an anti-ETA hit squad.

An intimate friend of prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, Ramirez now has no government to bring down. Although this year he did oust Spain’s most powerful businessman, Telefonica prexy Juan Villalonga, by resurrecting an insider-trading probe.

In a country where relatively few people read the press, Ramirez will now have television as an outlet. Through El Mundo TV, the newspaper has already produced a clutch of hard-hitting docs focusing on prostitution and the illegal organ-transplant trade.

“The adjudication of a license was the missing link in our transformation into a multi-media group,” Ramirez said.

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