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‘Big Brother’ gives auds taste for real life

Reality show's second season also a smash

MADRID — As elsewhere in Europe, after the ratings heist pulled off by the Tele 5-aired “Big Brother,” Spanish TV will never quite be the same.

Airing March-June, “Brother’s” second season in Spain has also been a smash hit, despite a fall to a 30% share and an 8.75 rating, well off the 42.3%/11.7% figures of last year’s first edition.

“Brother” has evolved from a sociological phenomenon into a simply magnificent commercial success.

“The show’s passed its maintenance test,” comments Jose Miguel Contreras, an Arbol Group board member. It underscores TV’s capacity for assimilation.

Soccer competish

Rather than sparking polemics, most viewers now regard it as “just another show.”

Making the Berlusconi-controlled Tele 5 Spain’s highest-rating broadcaster in June, the Endemol format even rivaled Spanish soccercasts. “Brother” occupied 14 slots in the 50 top-rating programs for Spain’s September 2000-June 2001 season; soccer took 26.

“BB” has also left hostages to fortune. “Brother’s” most important legacy has been its live transmission, of events as they happen and interaction with auds, says Tele 5 deputy director Alvaro Augustin.

But, in terms of reality formats in Spain, “Brother” has proved a one-show wonder.

Airing on the Telefonica Media-owned private net Antena 3, a second Endemol format, the roadshow reality soap “The Bus,” pulled in a solid 23.9% share, after, however, a huge multiplatform spread on Internet, free TV, pay TV and cell-phones, and strident cross-promotion on Antena 3. A canned version of “Survivors” on Tele 5 merely provoked indifference.

Spanish TV execs aren’t put off. Beyond “Big Brother 2002,” Tele 5 has announced a revamped, live edition of “Survivor” for the 2001-02 season with updates. Antena 3 is studying the new “Temptation Island” version, “Blind Faith.”

TVE, which pulled out of broadcasting “Survivor,” alleging public service scruples, is now prepping the Gestmusic-Endemol “Star Maker,” which will follow real-life candidates for repping Spain in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Reality glut?

Gestmusic-Endemol managing director Jose Maria Mainat announced this summer that he was in broadcaster talks to produce “Big Diet,” featuring weight-challenged contestants.

“In a few years time, people won’t raise an eyebrow at there being four to five ‘Big Brother’ style shows on the nets,” Augustin forecasts.

That time doesn’t seem so far off. Given Spain’s TV ad slowdown, Zeppelin CEO Jose Velasco thinks it’s “probable” that reality formats would increase in any economic recession. “They’re cheaper and more ratings effective,” he says.

Velasco puts the floor for drama TV production in Spain at Pta 60 million ($325,000) a 13-part series; a reality show costs 30%-40% less.

Drama dilemma

Domestic drama used to be Spain’s primetime staple. This year as last, soccer and “Big Brother” have wiped it off the ratings map. Is fiction in crisis?

Not at all, says Contreras. “It’s just that the newest dramas haven’t worked. Auds prefer almost 3-year-old series. We need new ideas which connect.”

Fiction remains high on skedders’ priorities. How it’s approached is a different matter. Pubcaster channel TVE 1 maintains a general entertainment sked. Tele 5 has held over many faves — including “Ally McBeal,” but from January will air a kindergarten drama with Emilio Aragon, the star of Tele 5’s record-rating “Family Doctor.”

Under CEO Luis Velo and programming director Manuel Villanueva, Antena 3 is aiming to skew upscale to steal Tele 5’s demo of urban 14- to 44- year-olds.

Moves include the acquisition of cult Colombian telenovela “Ugly Betty,” a “Simpsons” night on Sundays, and a latenight yakker, fronted by former Canal Plus talkshow host Maximo Pradera.

“With Antena 3 and Tele 5 slogging it out for young, urban auds, TVE has a pretty clear run at older rural demos, which aids its market share leadership,” says Contreras.

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