Spain’s TV Ad Market 53% Down

Spanish broadcast sector pummeled by crisis, Supreme Court DTT ruling

MADRID – Hit by still weak consumer demand in Spain, TV ad spend in Spain plunged 8% year-on-year to around Euros1.65 billion ($2.3 billion) in 2013, 53% off its pre-crisis 2007 peak, per a Barlovento Comunicacion year-in-review study.

Whether the ad market will turn any sort of corner in 2014 is another matter. TV ad volumes have shrunk 17% since 2007, ad prices are 29% down. The large question is if the market’s main players, led by commercial broadcast giants Atresmedia Group and Mediaset Espana can persuade advertisers to swallow any kind of pricing hike in such a desultory economic context, one analyst said.

At a mid-December Antena 3 Investors’ Day, Atresmedia CEO Silvio Gonzalez argued that Spain’s ad market had growth potential given it currently reps only 0.4% of GDP when historical averages run at 0.7%. That said, he maintained it could take five years for TV advertising to haul itself back to an average TV ad spend of $2.9 billion, predicting cautiously a 1.4% ad growth for 2014.

Few analysts are more sanguine. Muddying the waters mightily, on Dec. 18 Spain’s Supreme Court announced nine of its rash of new DTT channels – which include Disney Channel, Paramount Channel and Discovery Max, all using licenses originally adjudicated to Spanish media companies – should shutter, since granted without auction. The ball is now in the government’s court to decide which channels shutter.

“There’s large uncertainty about the number of channels per licensee which will cease transmissions, how a re-adjudication process could take place if it does, and which channels will close,” said Javier Martinez, an Accenture media and entertainment manager.

Mediaset Espana, owned by Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset and Atresmedia Group, whose lead shareholder is DeAPlaneta, currently enjoy a near duopoly in Spain’s broadcast market. Including Telecinco and Cuatro, Mediaset Espana’s eight-channel bouquet actually increased its market share to 29% in 2013. Led by its main commercial channel, Antena 3, Atresmedia’s seven-channel share rose from 25.8% to 28.7% as pubcaster RTVE’s five channels lost ground, down to 16.7% from 18.9%. Valencia regional government closed Valencia pubcaster Canal 9 on Nov. 29 after Spain’s National Court ruled recent workforce reduction illegal. Other regional pubcasters may go to the wall in 2014.

Adding to its DTT bouquets. Mediaset Espana and Atresmedia had aimed to increase market share so ad revenues when the economy finally picks up. Plagued by Spain’s weak economic recovery and the Supreme Court ruling, the extent of that strategy’s success is now up in the air.

With near six million out of work at the end of August, soccer provides an easy escapist fix for Spaniards. Led by the Spain-Italy penalty shoot-out in Brazil’s FIFA Confederations Cup, a nail-biter for 13.36 million viewers, soccer matches accounted for 16 of the 20 most-watched programs in Spain in 2013. Both Real Madrid, which boasts Cristiano Ronaldo, and – though to a lesser extent – the Leo Messi-led Barcelona has spent lavishly on soccer stars.

With both soccer clubs now under an E.U. probe for their possibly anti-trust tax status and Spain’s Prisa media conglom looking to sell off its majority stake in paybox Canal Plus – whose bottom line is dented year after year by the huge price of Spanish soccer rights – Spaniards wonder what will soon be left of their very recent years of prosperity, fuelled by an illusory construction bubble.

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