RTVE’s revolution

Archives power niche channels in Mexico

MADRID — Giant Spanish pubcaster Radio Television Espanola (RTVE) is enjoying a Mexican revolution.

Over this year, its docu channel Grandes Documentales has upped pay TV subs south of the Rio Grande from 130,000 to 1.24 million; news feed 24 Horas has gone from 100,000 Mexican subs to 1.24 million; and golden-oldie Canal Nostalgia climbed from 8,000 to 350,000.

Launched in 1956, RTVE sits on the second largest back catalog of Spanish-lingo programming in the world, after Televisa’s library. It has a workforce of 9,000, including far-flung news staff.

The only television station under General Franco, RTVE can plunder its vaults for the fullest Julio Iglesias season in the world, for example, or pics toplining Spanish flamenco matriach Lola Flores, some co-produced with Mexico.

Javier Martin Dominguez, TVE director of development and thematic channels, says this content helps RTVE’s international channels turn a modest profit.

Yoking niche channels has been a no-brainer. A larger question is delivery. RTVE first tried creating set-top boxes for a direct-to-home service abroad. It proved cumbersome, costly and a boon to piracy.

So RTVE cuts deals directly with Mexican satellite and cable operators. These are now going digital, generating a huge demand for niche channels. RTVE has quality Spanish-language content, and it’s relatively cheap.

RTVE has cut deals for Grandes Documentales with Sky Mexico and seven Mexican cable operators, says Martin Dominguez. Many of these cable nets also carry 24 Horas and Canal Nostalgia.

The Mex flex of Documentales is further evidence of burgeoning middle-class and educated audiences in Mexico, Martin Dominguez argues.

In much of Europe, especially the U.K, digital pay TV is more mature. One classic recipe for continuing earnings growth is niche auds.

RTVE’s general entertainment feed, TVE Intl., has just boarded Blighty satcaster BskyB, and RTVE is negotiating mini-premium bouquets for Switzerland and Romania.

These will allow expat Spaniards to view, say, RTVE’s variety/sketch marathon “Fiesta” or a kids-skewed classical music show “El conciertazo” wherever they are on the old continent.

Sometimes pay TV does deliver something slightly different.

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