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Cuatro set in Spain

Sogecable launches new terrestrial b'caster

MADRID — Spain has its first new major terrestrial broadcaster in 15 years: Cuatro.

Owned by Spanish pay-TV giant Sogecable, Cuatro will launch this fall as a totally free-to-air analog commercial network using the private TV license granted in 1990 to the Sogecable-owned analog premium service Canal Plus.

Cuatro received the thumbs-up last week at the last cabinet meeting of Spain’s socialist PSOE government before its August recess.

Cuatro will mark a watershed in Spanish TV, and energize Spain as a TV buyer.

It aims for a 10% market share in its first year, and it is pitching programming at a core 20-30 year-old viewership. Spain’s established commercial broadcasters Telecinco and Antena 3 had first-year market shares of 22.7% and 20.6% respectively and broader target demos of 13-54 year olds.

Cuatro has hired seasoned TV execs such as Antena 3’s Fernando Jerez to head up acquisitions and Telecinco’s Miguel Morant for Spanish production. Both have reputations for aggressive mainstream fare.

They will report to Canal Plus’ current channel director Elena Sanchez, who will become head of content at Cuatro.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s government has declared that it will impose conditions on Cuatro to avoid unfair competition.

The conditions are likely to include some sort of limitations on Sogecable acquiring exclusive pay- and free-TV rights to blockbuster movies and Spanish soccer transmissions.

Cuatro is known, however, to have held talks with major U.S. studios and is likely to eye top U.S. series, heavyweight docus and movies they’re permitted to program.

The government also is readying a franchise auction for a fourth nationwide free-to-air broadcaster. The new network will air as an analog feed until Spain’s analog switch-off in 2010. It will have spectrum space to reach 70% of Spain, including all major cities and towns.

Friday saw a sweeping batch of TV measures. The cabinet meeting also approved a Digital Terrestrial Television Technical Plan.

This will see 17 new DTT channels launched by RTVE, Telecinco, Antena 3, Sogecable, and established DTT operators Veo TV and Net TV by November 2005.

According to a draft State Radio and Television law, greenlit Friday, the state will absorb RTVE l7.5 billion ($9 billion) debt.

RTVE’s director generals will be chosen by a board of governors elected by parliament. They were previously government appointees.

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