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Cheap formats aid beleagured b’casters

Stations increase reruns, yakkers, gamers, reality shows

BUENOS AIRES — Since Argentina’s economy collapsed at the end of 2001, broadcasters have struggled to make ends meet as ad spending has dropped by more than 50%.

To survive, they have cut costs and sought revenue with fresh business formulas — a strategy likely to be maintained until 2003, when a recovery is expected to begin.

For viewers, this means fewer dramas and more reruns, and low-budget formats like talkshows. It also means fewer imports; the ad slump has forced broadcasters to cut back even though sellers have reduced costs drastically.

The latest fare to lure viewers is game- and reality shows. These are cheaper to buy and produce than fiction programming, and can generate extra revenue from telephone calls (some shows feature phone-in voting that charges a fee) as well as licensing and merchandising deals. Such shows also help advertisers target a specific demo.

Bandana, a girl band formed on reality skein “Popstars,” has raked in extra income from albums, concerts and branded merchandise for fourth-ranked Canal 9 (formerly Azul Television), controlled by businessman Daniel Hadad and producer RGB Entertainment.

First-ranked Telefe, a unit of Telefonica’s Admira, is using the same model with a boy band. Arch rival Grupo Clarin’s Artear-Canal 13 is airing talent contests for nudists, soccer players and singers, while America TV, controlled by sports media businessman Carlos Avila, is doing a political take on the format.

Despite the ad recession, fiction is still hot. This year’s most watched show is Artear’s “Son Amores” (They Are Lovers), a soap about a soccer referee. While there are fewer fiction programs on the air, six dramas and soaps rank among the top 20.

To recoup the larger investment in fiction, broadcasters and production companies are increasingly exporting. With the weakened peso, it is easier for them to snare overseas sales than in the 1990s, when the currency was tied one to one to the U.S. dollar.

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