Lost in translation

Local TV: outside auds a challenge

MADRID — Televisio de Catalunya (TVC) is not your average local pubcaster.

The consistent regional primetime and daytime ratings leader in Catalonia features programs like “Cacadors de bolets” (Mushroom Hunters), about, well, hunting for wild mushrooms in Catalonian forests; series “El Cor de la ciutat” (Heart of the City) which explores living in Barcelona; and “Afers exteriors” (External Affairs) which profiles the experiences of Catalans abroad.

No one on these shows is voted off the island or fired on the spot. It’s the sort of programming that works well in Catalonia, but not so well in the rest of Spain.

And regional appeal pays off locally:

  • Of the 6.7 million inhabitants of Catalonia, 70% name TVC as their preferred television network.

  • One out of two Catalans look for information first on their local network.

  • Three million sets turn on TV3 every day, with 1.25 million regular viewers.

Those numbers come from the new director of TVC, Francesc Escribano, named in January of this year.

“We do things that others don’t,” explains Escribano. “We offer documentaries in primetime, we have British-style fictional series. We’re different and our public wants us to be different..”

“TVC is the model for television in Spain,” says Jaume Santacana, general director of TV fiction factory Prodigius Audiovisual. “They were the first to do sitcoms and TV movies, and no regional network supports their local TV and film production like TVC.”

Many Spanish industry pros, even outside Catalonia, would agree with Escribano’s and Santacana’s assessments.

Still, with a new director comes a new direction, even as the philosophy remains the same. TVC hopes satellite digital TV will be in place in the next four to five years to help it expand its four-channel network, which consists of flagship TV3, alternative 33, youth-oriented K3 and its round-the-clock news Canal 3/24.

“Within six or seven years we’ll be able to choose from 40 to 50 channels, but we have to prepare now,” explains Escribano. “Our emphasis is on digital production because it’s interactive, and its capacities are endless.”

One producer says the plan is about positioning for the future, but commercially speaking, right now, it’s nowhere. “As of now, no one can receive digital terrestrial TV,” he says.

One idea is a free-view system, like the BBC in the U.K., where digital boxes are offered at a one-time cost.

Another challenge for TVC is balancing its strong inhouse production while being sensitive to the needs of local indie producers.

Tom Roca, head of fiction co-production at Televisio de Catalunya, says, “TVC is the motor for all mass media production in the region, and the most important thing right now is to create an environment for co-production.”

Since 2001, made-for-TV movies have been a focus of TVC’s efforts to work with local producers. Sixty have been produced in the last three years. But a lot has changed.

“On the first TV movies, TVC covered 70%-90% of the budget, and everything was shot in Catalan,” recalls Tono Folguera, production director at doc-heavy Bausan Films, producers of Oscar-nommed “Balseros.” “But that, economically, didn’t make sense.”

With local-leaning themes, plus the barrier of the local Catalan language, the madefors TVC was producing couldn’t be exported outside the region, let alone overseas.

Now, TVC ponies up 25% of a locally produced TV movie budget, forcing producers to scramble for the rest.

“Before, Catalonia was the only one making TV movies, but now everyone wants theirs,” says Folguera. “If Galicia, Andalucia or the Basque country want to co-produce, they’ll make demands. But one thing is certain, the film won’t be in Catalan.”

More ambitious production companies, such as Drimtim Entertainment, which produces slick, English-lingo, made-for-TV actioners with international casts, or DeAPlaneta and Mediapro’s Prodigius Audiovisual, are dedicated to making universally appealing TV movies for overseas sales.

“We’re selling from Latin America to China,” says Jaume Santacana. “We have to, to make money. TV movies are a new genre in Spain and there aren’t timeslots allotted to air them nationally. Only TV3 has a movie-of-the-week format. But I believe that will change in the upcoming year.”

One TV movie that’s selling well is “Red Sea,” starring Maribel Verdu (“Y tu mama tambien”).

TVC will raise Catalan industry investment 11% to E20 million ($26 million) for 2005.

“We can do better and do more,” Escribano says. “We’re working for more co-productions with local producers. If they’re stronger, the whole industry wins.”

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