WGA strike ends US reign in Spain

Cuatro's flagship 'House' drops in the ratings

MADRID As Spain totes up the damage from Hollywood’s writers strike in ratings for U.S. shows and ad revenues, it’s clear the fallout will also extend to the upcoming season.

Since “House” bowed in early 2006, Yank skeins have built share and cachet in Spain, aided by two newbie nets — Cuatro and La Sexta — which, hampered by limited startup budgets, bulked up on Yank imports.

But over the 2007-08 season, which wrapped in June, that young-adult surge was checked. For the first time on record, Spanish series (8.4%) contributed more to channels’ share than foreign imports (8.3%). Spanish series — the local version of “Ugly Betty,” sitcom “Aida” — scaled series highs.

“Hollywood’s writers strike determined 2007-08 results,” says Eduardo Matilla, prexy of research company Corporacion Multimedia.

Cuatro’s flagship fiction, “House,” went from season-three averages of 3.7 million viewers and 19.1% share to season-four average of 3.3 million and 17.1%.

Adding casualties were appointment shows. Cuatro received 11 episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy,” its second-highest-rating series, instead of the regular 26.

“We didn’t have ‘Anatomy’ from April to June, Spain’s biggest TV ad months,” laments Fernando Jerez, Cuatro programming director.

Jose Miguel Contreras, La Sexta CEO, says his net suffered from truncated seasons of “Prison Break,” “Bones” and “NCIS,” three of its top shows.

And without hot-ticket frosh bows from the U.S., Yank series’ revival lost their bloom. Back in January, Antena 3 TV was toying with preem dates for its big Disney buys “Private Practice” and “Dirty Sexy Money,” but has held back.

With only 11 episodes of “Life,” Telecinco delayed its bow to last week where it preemed to a reduced out-of-season aud of only 4.1 million, despite grabbing a 28.5% share.

Spain isn’t the only Euro strike victim. France’s M6 opened season three of “Prison Break” Nov. 29 to an 18.3% share. Forced to halt Feb. 21, M6 renewed it May 29 (15.2%), wimping out a week later (14.2%). Overseas, the companies or countries caught worst in the strike crossfire have been those that back series closely to U.S. premieres.

“Other markets that started ‘House 4’ later in their regular season weren’t so affected,” says Bertrand Villegas of Paris-based audience research company WIT (World Information Tracking).

In Spain, “CSI: Miami” and “CSI,” where Telecinco slowed delivery, never broke stride, averaging a massive 6.1% and 5.4% above channel average. But for Cuatro and La Sexta, which have grown by delivering U.S. series fast, Spanish release windows on U.S. shows are becoming release slits. Some Spanish broadcast execs fear the worst is still to come.

“With a shortened development process on new U.S. series, we’re seriously and legitimately worried about their quality,” says Ghislain Barrois, Telecinco head of acquisitions.

And that concern is shared the world over.

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