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Drama skeins prove winning strategy

Territory report: Argentina

BUENOS AIRES — You would expect Argentina’s TV broadcasters to stick with cheaper gamers and yakkers as they slowly emerge from last year’s economic crisis.

Instead, viewers are getting expensive drama series including America TV’s “Sol negro” (Black Sun), about a rich boy in a mental asylum. The fourth-ranked broadcaster, owned by Carlos Avila, is staving off the threat of bankruptcy by hiring veteran scriptwriter Jorge Maestro to incorporate more fiction.

This is key, says Maestro, to winning loyal viewers and, in turn, bringing in steady ad revenue to boost content spending.

The strategy is gaining support.

State-owned Canal 7 has hired a scribe to run programming, and third-ranked Canal 9, owned by journo Daniel Hadad, is looking for a partner to pay down debt and purchase more fiction.

All this poses a challenge to longtime leaders Telefe, owned by Admira, and Clarin’s Artear-Canal 13.

Artear broke Telefe’s decade-old lead briefly last year and into 2003 largely on the back of sudser “Son amores” (They Are Lovers) and “Soy Gitano.” Telefe pushed back ahead thanks in part to private-eye series “Los simuladores” (The Simulators).

Telefe’s programming director Claudio Villarruel is preparing a slate of fiction for 2004, including the Argentine version of “The Nanny,” co-produced with Sony.

While some fall flat, such as vigilante-drama “Malandras” on third-ranked Canal 9, competition from American films and series on the wide-reaching pay TV platforms is feeding the push for homegrown fiction.

To compete, broadcasters must offer “something different. Fresh dramas are an answer,” says Fernando Alvarez Colombres, general director of Brand Connection, a media-buying firm.

What’s more, a 65% weakening of the local currency against the U.S. dollar since 2001 has put imported content largely out of reach.

Even as the economy recovers, budgets will remain tight through 2004 as broadcasters recoup losses, says Alvarez Colombres.

To rebuild, broadcasters will expand on tactics that bolstered revenue or ratings during the crisis: brand-based programs, product placement, quick scheduling changes and show sponsorship.

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