'Kitchen Nightmares' makeover a fall standout

MADRID

“Pesadilla en la cocina,” a makeover of Fox’s reality skein “Kitchen Nightmares,” has touched a nerve in Spain, and become one of the fall’s biggest hits in the process.

The show bowed out Dec. 20 with a first season 12.6% share on La Sexta, which averaged 5.4% in November.

“Pesadilla” points up a recipe for dealing with Spain’s tough times, as the country battles 26% unemployment, deepening recession and government cuts.

As with its U.S. and U.K. forebears, “Pesadilla” dispatches a straight-talking chef — here the burly Alberto Chicote, a chef who cusses like an Ernest Hemingway character and has the dinner manners of a goatherd — to turn around often drastically indebted restaurants.

” ‘Pesadilla’ works like disaster or apocalypse shows in crises of yore: Audiences see they could be even worse off,” Spanish analyst Eduardo Garcia Matilla explained.

“It’s also like ‘House,’ boasting a protagonist who is rude, out-of-order, lambasts the sub-standard and unprofessional, but finally proves a redeemer.”

Equally, “Pesadilla” points up the name of the game in cash-strapped Spain: Low-cost programming.

Spanish TV ad revs fell 19% this year, one analyst estimated. They’ll fall a further 7%-10% next year, Mediaset Espana CEO Paolo Vasile predicted a few weeks back.

Sharing about 90% of Spain’s TV ad market, broadcast nets Mediaset Espana and Antena 3 Group are still in the black. But their first nine-month net profits contracted 60% and 90% respectively to Euros 4.6 million ($6.1 million) and $53.8 million.

Most other TV companies, stations and TV producers are hurting.

The government slashed nationwide pubcaster Rtve’s 2012 budget by $267 million to $1.2 billion. Content cuts have decimated audience share, down for RTVE channels from a combined 21.7% in November 2011 to last month’s 14.6%.

“One of the main differences between today and just two years ago is that Spain’s Forta regional channels and TVE are no longer bullish buyers,” said Ghislain Barrois, Mediaset Espana’s acquisitions head.

Mediaset Espana and Antena 3 will occasionally bet on higher-cost shows beyond their competitors’ pockets, said Garcia Matilla.

Boasting a star-spangled jury, Mediaset Espana’s talent contest “La Voz” was another fall rookie hit, punching a full-season 34% share on top-rating channel Telecinco.

In general, however, tough times favor purportedly low-cost programming, such as “Nightmares,” Garcia Matilla argues.

Little wonder Mediaset is launching its eighth DTT channel, the femme-skewing Nueve on Jan. 2.

“DTT channels are low-cost and very often highly cost-effective operations,” said Barrois.

They also allow advertisers to target specific viewer demos.

TVE recently re-upped the higher-cost “Isabel,” a bio of Spain’s 15th-century queen, for a second season.

In general, however, few fiction series in Spain cost more than $660,000 a seg.

“Recycled canned content, library and cheap outsourced shows are the trends and will be through 2013, 2014,” one analyst concluded.

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