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Spain’s TV to grow

Two digital free-to-air channels approved

MADRID — In a move that will revolutionize Spain’s TV landscape, the government Friday approved the creation of two nationwide, digital free-to-air TV channels, the license of which will be awarded by year’s end.

Franchise applications must be in by June 2; winners will be decided by Oct. 31.

The new franchise beneficiaries will not include either the socialist-friendly Sogecable, which controls Canal Plus Spain, or Antena 3 owner Telefonica Media. Spain’s private TV law forbids owners from having two licenses.

Possible mergers

The announcement, made just two days before Spain’s general elections, opens the door for the consolidation of other powerful media groups in Spain, but at the cost of decimating revenues of established broadcasters.

If Jose Maria Aznar’s conservatives confirm expectations by returning to power, the new operators also could be powerful government allies as Telefonica appears to be distancing itself from Aznar.

Total TV ad revenues rose a dramatic 17.3% in 1999 to 344.6 billion pesetas ($2.03 billion), allowing private webs Antena 3 and Telecinco to post spectacular net profits. But pubcaster RTVE’s TVE1 and TVE2, as well as Spain’s regional nets also compete with no statutory limitations for TV advertising.

Speaking March 7, Antena 3 CEO Juan Jose Nieto warned that the launch of two new free TV nets would spark a “radical and brutal” change in Spain’s broadcasting landscape.

(John Hopewell contributed to this report.)

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