Spain: Competish, marketing help Yank shows

U.S. shows occupy top-shelf space

United Kingdom

More competition from new players and better marketing means a clutch of Yank shows have caught fire in this territory.

“U.S. fiction has reached a remarkable level,” says Fernando Jerez, an exec with upstart channel Cuatro.

Cuatro and its rival newcomer La Sexta have snapped up a substantial number of U.S. series. Both target young adult auds: Cuatro notched up a 6.5% audience share in September, La Sexta almost 3%.

Fox’s sophomore skein “Prison Break” is, for example, being hyped to the hilt by La Sexta as its big fall bow.

But there are probably only five U.S. series hits playing in Spain at any given time, and two have been around for years: longtime ratings leader “CSI” and Fox’s “The Simpsons” which still pulls in a sizable lunchtime crowd. The others are “House,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Criminal Minds.”

Before this latest buying boom, U.S. skeins commanded $30,000-$40,000 an episode. But La Sexta paid $80,000 an episode for “The Sopranos.” A hit U.S. import is probably pulling down on average $60,000 an episode for the relevant Hollywood distributor.

“It’s a sellers market right now,” says Jerez.

While broadcasters don’t break out budgets in Spain, Telecinco did declare its acquisitions budget to be $90 million in 2003 and has apparently lowered that figure every year since, to $66 million currently, in order to hike inhouse production. TVE’s budget is probably double that.

There have been notable busts in Spain: on Antena 3, “The 4400” played well as a mini but faded in its second season.

But biggest turkeys have been “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost,” both aired on TVE 1, pubcaster TVE’s general entertainment channel.

That may have been the problem.

TVE 1 skews old and rural. Once “Housewives” spluttered, it was shunted around the sked, fuddling away even more audience.

” ‘Lost’ doesn’t belong on TVE. Its programming is directed at older people, it’s not an innovative station,” says analyst Fabian Lares at Espirito Santo Investment.

While “CSI” and now “House” figure in Spain’s top ten weekly shows, the other contenders are well-established local shows like Telecinco’s “ER”-ish “Central Hospital,” and TVE 1’s retro family drama “Remember Me.”

Local shows can cost up to $1 million per episode to produce.

Spain’s largest challenge is to come up with new hit skeins — and they may not originate from either the U.S. or Spain itself.

France’s comic sketch “Camera Cafe” and “Yo soy Bea,” Tele Cinco’s tongue-in-cheek remake of Colombian sudser “Betty la Fea,” are signs that the country is beginning to look further afield for product.

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