TV conglom bets on being everywhere

CCRTV's Activa Multimedia goes digital with automatized content

BARCELONA — Two mountaineers labor up the granite face of Punta Alta, one of the highest mountains in the Pyrenees. It’s 6:30 a.m. Gray mist billows over the summit. One of them gets out his mobile, dials and in a few seconds a chatty cartoon figure appears on the screen.

He’s Sam the weather man, available anytime, and he says the weather will be OK.

Sam is the flagship creation of Activa Multimedia, a shingle owned by Catalan regional pubcaster CCRTV. Activa provides integrated systems and services for digital TV, not just TV3, the general entertainment channel of CCRTV.

“Sam is an example of automatized content, which can be re-used economically and via multiwindow distribution — mobiles, Internet, TV. The bottom line is to turn what’s in a data bank into images,” says Activa director Joan Roses. “The challenge is to make DTT more than a channel reception system.”

TV3 is Spain’s most successful regional pubcaster channel, with an 18.9% market share in 2005-06, just .6% behind audience leader Telecinco.

And it’s probably the most modern TV network in Spain.

“As a public service, we have to bet on DTT. DTT is only a different way of watching digital TV, a free-per-view service. It’s TV for everybody,” says Joan Carreras, TV3 digital and interactive content director.

CCRTV currently simulcasts four channels in DTT and analog, and airs dedicated DTT feeds 3/24 (24-hour news) and 300 (series and movies). Basic interactive services are up and running: Viewers can press a button and get the recipe from a cooking show, browse soccer match statistics or see road traffic in real time.

Soon they’ll be able to set up a date with a doctor, file income tax returns and even vote.

Audience research company Barlovento put DTT’s August audience share at 3% for Spain. Spanish DTT lacks the traction of Italy’s DTT, powered by PPV soccer, or the U.K.’s Freeview, the successful BBC/BSkyB/ITV/ Channel 4 platform, beaming to 28% of households, or 7.8 million homes.

Per Screen Digest, Spanish DTT homes will reach 3.7 million in 2009, a low penetration. Spain is still in the analog era, having recently bowed two analog channels, Cuatro and La Sexta. Its commercial broadcasters are still focusing on core analog TV advertising, though this summer viewers per commercial reached all-time lows, according to ZenithOptimedia.

Consumer associations are already protesting that DTT decoders being sold in Spain are simply “zappers,” lacking interactive functions.

But CCRTV is still scanning Spain’s digital TV horizon, and far more actively than most broadcasters, having created a dedicated company, Interactiva Multimedia.

“We run many thematic Web sites: on radio, TV, music, news, sports, one for children; another is a youth site (“Super 3″). The latter two have caught fire, with over half a million children having signed on in Catalonia,” explains Contents Interactiva director Ferran Clavell.

CCRTV’s most arresting achievement is 3alacarta, an on-demand service that launched in December 2004. It offers near 40,000 videos, streamed to users for a prior subscription fee.

“Consumption runs at 25,000 hours a month; 50% of users are Catalans living abroad. We offer a supplementary coverage to the TV3i international satellite service, which reaches Europe and the Americas. We have nearly 700,000 users registered for CCRTV interactive services,” Ferran explains proudly.

“Our philosophy is multiplatform distribution. For instance, news content is distributed through TV, radio, Internet, mobiles, PDAs, interactive DTT, Home Media Centers and iPods,” says Clavell.

“We present our audiences with four different brands: TV3, the general entertainment channel, 33, K3 and 24h. Commercial TV stations are used to making a quick buck through a single channel. We are more like a flotilla. In the future, flotillas will make plenty of sense,” says TV3’s Carreras.

“It’s a complex moment,” says David Matamoros, Catalan Films & TV director of research. “Who could have said YouTube would become one of the most visited Web sites?

“As audiences get educated, they will gradually leave traditional TV. Statistics say that Americans under 12 would throw their TV set out of the window rather than a PC with an online connection.”

Whether for users watching TV from a couch or consulting a service to climb a mountain, CCRTV wants to be everywhere.

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