Hollywood volume deals with nets may lapse or be rewritten

The dire state of the Spanish economy is leading to a shakeout in the nation’s TV biz that may leave Mediaset Espana and Antena 3 as the only free-to-air players — and cause Hollywood volume deals with broadcasters to change hands, be renegotiated or simply lapse.

With unemployment, consumer spending, regional bank assets and foreign investor confidence plummeting, TV advertising revenues tumbled 30%, to €2.2 billion ($2.7 billion) in 2011, from $3.9 billion in 2007. They will fall an additional 16% in 2012, according to Adrian Zunzunegui of equity brokerage house Cheuvreux.

Spain’s TV ad market is now back to its 1999 size, with broadcasters charging 2003-04 prices, another analyst adds.

The freefall hasn’t left enough TV advertising coin for Spain’s new DTT nets, says Eduardo Garcia Mantilla.

Last month, Valencia’s Canal Nou, facing a debt of $1.35 billion, revealed it would pinkslip 76% of its 1,695 staffers. Three days later, TeleMadrid was forced to ask its regional government to underwrite $105.6 million in short-term debt.

Desperate to cut spending, Spain’s central government has authorized regions to close or sell their pubcasters. Appointed in June, RTVE prexy Leopoldo Gonzalez-Echenique is obliged to slash the pubcaster’s budget of $1.4 billion by $250 million.

Losing a collective $2.4 billion a year and 0.5%-1% a month in ad market share, many regional webs will be forced to shutter, says Zunzunegui. RTVE won’t renew all its content deals, he adds.

Antena 3 has reduced the prices it’s willing to pay for acquisitions 10% to 20% compared with two years ago, says Mercedes Gamero, Antena 3 acquisitions head. It has movie volume deals with Disney, NBCU and Sony, and recently bowed “Game of Thrones” to a healthy five-segment 14.7% share.

“We’re interested in U.S. studio product,” says Gamero. But the network can afford to cherry-pick series.

Meanwhile, unless Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government overturns tough antitrust conditions imposed on a merger between Antena 3 and its smaller analog rival La Sexta — hardly a sure thing — the smaller web, which saw ad revs fall 34% in the first half of the year, according to Madrid consultancy Infoadex, may shut down. La Sexta has a multiyear film-series deal with Warner Bros.

Share loss at regional nets and RTVE, the latter down to 11.5% in June from 14.6% in June 2011, will be Mediaset Espana and Antena 3’s gain.

“For years, RTVE has outbid the commercial networks on content, and La Sexta (has) undercut them on advertising. Those days look over,” says an analyst.

Cuatro, the other analog network launched during the boom of the 2005-06 season, is already part of Mediaset Espana. If La Sexta disappears, Mediaset and Antena 3 will have all but 2.5% of Spain’s TV ad market, Zunzunegui says.

But every crisis has a silver lining, and this one includes a simple tip for investors: Several analysts maintain that Mediaset and Antena 3 stock is undervalued.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more