MADRID — What a difference three years make.
In 2003, savvy Spanish broadcast execs were desperately slimming down U.S. studio volume deals to save money. Cuttable fat included most TV series, which were airing outside primetime (if they aired at all) to poor ratings.
Fast-forward to 2006, and two Spanish terrestrial broadcasters can’t get enough of them.
On Jan. 20, startup Cuatro, controlled by Spain’s Sogecable, announced 18 new U.S. skeins for the year.
Three days later, La Sexta, controlled by Mexico’s Televisa and Spain’s Arbol-Mediapro, unveiled its first shows for its March-April launch — “The Sopranos” and “Commander in Chief.”
“We want the best American shows,” a rep for Arbol says.
Cuatro’s upcoming primetime bows include Stateside successes “House,” “The Closer,” “The Ghost Whisperer” and “Everybody Hates Chris,” plus shows that haven’t performed as well. Cuatro has bought “Sex, Love and Secrets,” which was axed by UPN.
Cuatro and La Sexta also are in the market for old shows.
Cuatro’s nighttime umbrella show “Cuatrosfera” will include WB toon series “Baby Blues,” “Mission Hill” and “The Oblongs,” 1970s skein “King Fu” and 1980s hit “The Greatest American Hero,” plus “Queer as Folk,” “Tales From the Crypt,” “Flamingo Road,” “Wonder Woman,” “Nikita,” “Perfect Strangers,” “Night Court” and “I Am Weasel.”
Both channels are coy about what they’re spending on U.S. content. Cuatro reportedly paid $30,000-$60,000 per episode of its total programming budget of roughly $200 million, while La Sexta is said to have doled out $80,000 per episode for “The Sopranos,” which airs on Sogecable’s premium channel Canal Plus.
Why the sudden feeding frenzy?
Both Cuatro and La Sexta are niche youth nets, while the incumbent terrestrials Telecinco and Antena 3 target adults 18-54.
Spanish auds go to Telecinco for good local fiction and Antenna 3 for big movies.
The tyros may well be making a name for themselves as the home of American shows.
In 2003, only “CSI” and “The Simpsons” regularly played primetime. By 2005, they had been joined by “Without a Trace” on Antena 3 while “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” air on pubcaster channel TVE-1.
“U.S. series are now successful in Spain. They’re prestigious among our core youth targets,” says Cuatro programming director Fernando Jerez, who adds, “Not all top series had been bought for Spain when we started.”
The U.S. skeins also afford the startup webs the luxury of biding their time while they prep big local productions, such as Cuatro’s Sony-produced “Simulators.”
Launched Nov. 7, Cuatro’s all-day market share was 5% through Jan. 24. The results for U.S. shows were mixed: “Grey’s Anatomy” took 3.9%, “Medium” 4.9%, while “House” bowed Jan. 23 with 9.4%.
There’s no consensus about Cuatro’s bow.
“It’s very weak,” says Luis Fananas at Deutsche Bank. “Normal,” counters Glen Spencer Chapman at Ibersecurities.
However, Cuatro’s targets are more encouraging. The web notched 6.6% among viewers 13-24, per audience research company Corporacion Multimedia. It needs just 6%-7% total aud share to breakeven, according to Sogecable, which expects that to happen this year. Ibersecurities and Deutsche Bank reckon the break-even figure is more like 8% of total auds.
Advertising helps. When Cuatro booked billboards for “Rome,” the series averaged 7%.
“Programs are dogged by Cuatro’s low profile,” says Fananas. That lesson is unlikely to be lost on La Sexta.
With a four-year, E492 million ($604.2 million) budget, La Sexta reportedly has made the most aggressive bid for this summer’s World Cup soccer tourney, which would put it on the map in this soccer-mad country.
Cuatro and La Sexta have only until analog switchoff in 2010 to milk Spain’s vibrant TV ad market, which grew 19% for Antena 3, 15% for Telecinco in 2005.
Expect fevered business with Spain at May’s L.A. Screenings.