Dire TV situation forces distribs to renegotiate pic pacts

Madrid — Apart from rethinking existing pic agreements, Spanish distribbers look likely to remain very picky at Cannes.

2003 STATS
Top film: “Mortadelo & Filemon: The Big Adventure” (Warner Sogefilms; $27.4 million)
Top indie: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (Aurum Producciones; $26.6 million)
Total B.O.: $767 million
Indie B.O.: $245 million
Total releases: 458
Indie releases: 281
Sources: ICAA/Nielsen EDI
“Alexander” (TriPictures)
“Around the World in 80 Days” (Filmax)
“Hostage” (Manga Films)
“Prime” (DeAPlaneta)
“Danny the Dog” (New World Films)
“Super Size Me” (ABL Augusta)

Tumbling ratings for movies on Spanish broadcasters are damaging the already fragile health of Spanish pic distribution. Terrestrial TV auds for feature films have nearly halved over the last 10 years, savaged by the rise of local series, reality shows, DVD and the creation of multiple TV windows. To put the trend in perspective: 1994’s highest-rated movie on TV, “Pretty Woman,” garnered 9.2 million viewers; in 2003, “The Sixth Sense” managed to lure just 5.5 million.

The decline is pushing Spanish TV execs to slash pic acquisitions budgets and to re-negotiate their existing deals with majors and indies alike.

For Spain’s main terrestrial broadcaster RTVE, investment in U.S. films dropped 52% to 41 million Euros ($49.4 million).

“The problem is how to justify prices paid for films two years ago with the falling prices now offered by broadcasters,” says TriPictures prexy Felipe Ortiz.

To add to the distribbers’ nightmare, pay TV platform Digital Plus, the result of July’s merger between Telefonica’s Via Digital and Sogecable’s Canal Satelite Digital, isn’t picking up any new indie product.

“Digital Plus’ decision not to buy indie films until 2007 is bad news because before you could recoup around a quarter of a minimum guarantee from pay TV. That’s no longer possible,” Manga Films prexy Luis de Val laments.

“There’s an increasingly small number of films which can be successful in every single window,” comments Filmax’s head of acquisitions Jorge Tuca.

“We’ll have to try to renegotiate old contracts with international suppliers, bringing them in line with the actual state of the Spanish market,” Ortiz adds.