<I>Variety</I> takes stock of the Spanish nets

TELECINCO

Telecinco’s results could be as good as it gets, analysts said in 2003.

Ditto 2004, and 2005. It took the World Cup to finally slow second-quarter sales to a year-on-year standstill. But Telecinco’s fundamentals remain daunting to others: 20.6% August share, 51% operating profit margins and $239.3 million first-half profits. Its fall sked — led by fiction franchises — should beat the competition.

Two dark clouds dot the distant horizon: the slow erosion of its fiction franchises, and of its core ad biz by market fragmentation. Neither is a current worry. While Spain’s economy remains buoyant, Telecinco can make hay while the sun shines.

ANTENA 3

Antena 3 has to get back into the saddle. Its fall lineup boasts a new entry: Tuesday-night European Champions League soccer. But it’s not enough.

Its golden goose — Spain’s top series “Aqui no hay quien viva” — is gone, nixed by Telecinco’s sly buy of its producer, Miramon Mendi. “The biggest question now for Spanish TV is what Antena 3 will do to compensate for ‘Aqui’s’ loss,” says Fabian Lares of Espirito Santo Investment.

Antena 3 needs a couple of watercooler shows. There are some candidates, such as Ana Obregon comedy “Ellas y el sexo debil,” and the traditional fallback, high-end movies. If these misfire, the DeAPlaneta/ RTL net could continue being a also-ran, trailing Telecinco by two points.

RTVE

After 30 years of pussyfooting by successive Spanish governments, the current one run by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has taken Spain’s biggest TV bull by the horns: the financing structure of giant pubcaster RTVE.

Expect a drawn-out corrida (bull fight). The government has offered to write off RTVE’s $738.3 million 2006 debt if RTVE downscales. In mid-July, RTVE proposed 4,150 job cuts, slashing the workforce to 6,500. RTVE labor unions approved the restructuing Sept. 7. Or, thinking about it, voted in favor…

Meanwhile, RTVE audience share is tumbling, from 24.7% in 2002 to 19.5% for TVE-1 in 2005. And larger questions remain unresolved: significant long-term state subsidies and the government’s assumption of RTVE’s $9.7 billion long-term debt.

CUATRO

Cuatro shows that if you do a good job, people will take it and that they’re anxious for something new,” says Javier Marin at Morgan Stanley.

Launched in November, the Sogecable-owned web ran up a highly creditable 6.8% share by August. “The question is now if they can solidify their schedule,” says analyst Lares. Their biggest fall bets: “House,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” HBO’s “Rome” and “Everybody Hates Chris.”

Analysts put breakeven at 9% (Espirito Santo Investment) to 10% (Morgan Stanley) aud share. Those two to three extra points will be the hardest to get: Expect Cuatro to continue buying top U.S. shows, if it can get them.

LA SEXTA

La Sexta, controlled by Spanish production house Imagina and Mexico’s Televisa, launched in March. It attempts to drive its analog signal reach with must-see sports events.

The World Cup gave La Sexta a 7.5% share in June; Spain’s World Cup basketball matches scored 2.4% in August; and the first Saturday night of league soccer in August notched 12.9%. Shares remain around 1%-2% for other programming, with analog coverage 52% of Spain.

“Will they grow market share? Yes. Can they get 2%-3% more market share? Maybe they will,” says Morgan Stanley’s Marin. “We’ll have to wait until 2007 to see if La Sexta is viable.”

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