Spain OKs 2 nets, programming demand to soar

MADRID — The Spanish government has awarded two free-to-air franchises to foreign-dominated consortiums.

One went to Veo TV, a group led by daily newspaper El Mundo and publishing group Recoletos, which are owned by the U.K.’s Pearson and Italy’s Rizzoli, respectively.

The second license winner, Net TV, teams another daily, ABC, with top Spanish production houses Arbol and Cartel-Telson. Producer Europroducciones is a minority partner.

The two networks, launching as digital feeds next year, join new digital operator Quiero TV and nascent cable feeds AOC and ONO.

The news has sent producers scrambling to conquer a TV market on the brink of developing gargantuan appetite for content.

Spain’s two established commercial networks, Tele 5 and Antena 3, have never had it so good, posting ad receipts for the six months ended June 30 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 as “Pedro J.” According to a survey among Spanish execs this July, Ramirez is the most influential journalist in Spain and the eighth most powerful person in the country.

In 1996, he contributed to the election defeat of Felipe Gonzalez’s socialists after 14 years in power by uncovering their misuse of state money.

An intimate friend of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, Ramirez now has no government to bring down. This year he did, however, oust Spain’s most powerful businessman, Telefonica prexy Juan Villalonga, by resurrecting a insider-trading probe.

In a country where relatively few people read newspapers, Ramirez will now have television as an outlet.

Through El Mundo TV, the newspaper has already produced a clutch of hard-hitting documentaries focusing on prostitution and the illegal organ-transplant trade.

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

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