Rampant piracy, slumping b.o. hurt film sales

MADRID — In a biz ravaged by piracy and declining box office, tyro Spanish DVD distrib So Good Entertainment is veering away from features and into TV shows and other fare.

So Good is backed by Portuguese bank Espirito Santo and headed by Universal Pictures Iberia topper Tino de la Torre. Vet toon producer Claudio Biern also is a partner in the venture, set up last month.

First titles out are toon skeins from Japan’s Bandai, “Hack Sign” and the 3-D “Eureka Seven,” plus DVD collections “The Encyclopedia of the Comic,” “Bulls in Spain: Bullfighting,” Spanish comic operetta-themed “Las Zarzuelas” and “All About Mushrooms.”

This is a sign of the times. DVD sales on firstrun movies plunged 40% in Spain last year while other categories grew, DVDs of TV shows by as much as 40%.

“Specialist market sales — on DVD TV series (or) documentaries — were artificially low. From having little interest, consumers have rapidly decided this market is very interesting,” de la Torre explains.

2005 wasn’t a good year for firstrun movies in general in Spain. Cinema attendance slipped 13%. Rampant piracy — both street sales and illicit downloading — have ravaged first run DVD movie sales, says de la Torre.

A recent MPAA report singles out Spain among Europe’s Big Five as having the highest piracy rates, repping a lost 32% of potential business, compared to Italy’s 25%.

“The worst thing about piracy,” says de la Torre, “is that is persuades customers that they can get product for far less than traditional price points just by holding off buying for a few months.”

In 2005, DVD consumer spending held steady in the U.K. at around E3.2 billion ($4.1 billion) and in Germany at $1.6 billion. In Spain, DVD sales for members of the Spanish Video Union — all the studios plus top indies — plunged 24% to $387.5 million.

TV DVD won’t be a panacea for Spain’s DVD biz, as they cost less than features.

So Good also is planning to enter production, taking equity on a brace of toon pics, maybe spinoffs of series from Biern’s production house, BRB.

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