RTVE has several competitive advantages in post-analog world

MADRID — Facing an analog switch-off in 2010, hesitancy about creating new content and uncertainty about ad take-up, can RTVE lead Spain’s digital terrestial television revolution?

Launched in November, TVE’s five-channel digital terrestrial TV multiplex is Spain’s bulkiest: TVE-1, La2; news feed Canal 24 Horas; sports channel Teledeporte; golden oldies channel TVE 50; and tots-to-teens Clan TVE, which addresses European public TV’s Achilles heel: lack of attractive children’s programming.

In Spain alone, per a Corporacion Multimedia study, average daily viewing among children 4-12 fell from 2000′s 153 minutes to 142 minutes in 2005. With Clan TVE, per RTVE estimates, its percentage of kids fare will rise from 3.7% to 12.1% of all the pubcaster’s programming.

One driver for DTT penetration, per many analysts, is original programming. TVE offers original content via Clan TVE.

A big success for Clan has been kids omnibus show “Comecaminos,” fronted by young anchors who tour Madrid in a minivan, laptop computer in hand, visiting, on one weekend this March, acrobats, a dance teacher, a Mecano shop and a personalized teddy bear store. Presenters cooked vol-au-vents, handled gecko lizards and tortoises, and plugged snowboarding vidgame “SSX on Tour.”

Series highlights include Mike Young Prods.’ “Pet Alien” and “Felicity,” from Imagine TV, with Keri Russell as a university student.

In forging a digital TV presence, RTVE has several competitive advantages. It owns the biggest TV and film library in Spain. It has vast experience in multichannel digital TV, thanks to its overseas services, which launched 1988. Led by TVE Intl., a TVE-1/La2 mix, the offerings also include DocuTV, rerun Canal Clasico and Canal 24 Horas.

The reach is impressive, partly because of language. “Spanish isn’t as important as English, but its extension is comparable, and it has a knock-on effect importing channels,” says Juan Buhigas, chief executive, RTVE Comercial.

Per Ana Maure, deputy director, TVE Canales Internacionales, TVE Intl. reaches 64 million households worldwide. “We have U.S. cable or digital carriage deals with Cablevision, Time Warner and Comcast, and distribute Canal 24 Horas and DocuTV there,” she says.

RTVE’s international expansion continues: This year it’s received authorization to transmit in Canada. There’s a lack of clarity, however, about how Spanish digital terrestrial TV could play out. Spain’s electronic hardware association claims 350,000 sales of DTT set-top boxes in November and December of 2005.

“The uptake in Spain is now beginning to look pretty impressive. In Spain, like Italy, pay TV penetration is relatively low. There’s an opportunity for low- or zero-cost multichannel digital TV,” says Screen Digest analyst Guy Bisson.

But take-up has to run at 2.4 million TV homes a year to make the 2010 switch-off possible. DTT, to offer take-up drivers, needs significant financing and marketing.

The BBC earmarked a five-year spend of $1.7 billion in 1998 for digital TV. Per RTVE, it will tab DTT investment to market growth. This investment will be needed, foreseeably, while RTVE cuts costs elsewhere. DTT is terrestial. Its future, however, is up in the air.

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