Spanish TV gets a makeover

Fourth nationwide free-to-air broadcaster to be launched

MADRID — Spanish TV is getting a makeover.

Among other measures disclosed Friday, the socialist government said it is readying a franchise auction for a fourth nationwide free-to-air broadcaster.

The new network will air as an analog feed until Spain’s analog switch-off in 2010. It will have spectrum space to reach 70% of Spain, including all major cities and towns.

Conservative media in Spain tip the Zeta Group to win the auction. A politically free-floating media conglom, Zeta owns indie film distribber On Pics.

The winner will join established broadcasters Telecinco and Antena 3 and an in-the-works new Sogecable network, converting paybox Canal Plus Espana into a totally free-to-air operator.

The new web forms part of Spain’s most sweeping broadcast reforms since the launch of three private TV networks in 1990. Among the changes, it was announced that Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s year-old government will absorb RTVE Euros7.5 billion ($9.1 billion) debt, hike state subsidies from 5% to 40%-45% of the pubcaster’s budget, and cap RTVE ad revs at 45%-50%.

RTVE’s director general will be chosen by a board of governors elected by parliament. They were previously government appointees. RTVE will be assigned eight digital terrestrial channels by 2010, Telecinco, Antena 3 and Canal Plus Espana will get four a piece, industry minister Jose Montilla said Friday.

Spain’s new TV regs comprise three draft laws and two royal decrees. The bills still have to go through parliament, but are likely to pass without substantial changes. The RTVE legislation will come into force in spring 2006.

Spain’s TV makeover will have multiple consequences. Weaned off its near total advertising dependence, RTVE will sharpen its public service credentials.

Spain is Europe’s fourth biggest MPAA market with $1.2 billion in sales in 2003. Two new free-to-air channels will hike demand for mainstream movies and series from the U.S. and elsewhere. New competition will dent but not devastate existing broadcasters Telecinco and Antena 3.

According to an Ibersecurities report, two upstart channels, both with 10% shares, would lower Telecinco’s market share from 22.1% in 2004 to 19% and, slowing TV ad price rises, drop Telecinco’s annual revs by around 4.5%.

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