MADRID — Five-year-old Shinchan plays the kind of little-boy pranks that have kids all around the world glued to the tube.

Aired on Antena.neox, one of Spain’s clutch of new digital terrestrial (DTT) channels, Japanese toon “Shinchan” was the top-rated show in July, according to the first viewing figures ever released for DTT.

No surprises there: the skein already is must-see TV for kids in its 8.15 a.m. slot on Antena 3, one of Spain’s main terrestrial webs, and the parent of Antena.neox.

The real surprise is that the most-seen DTT show is hardly seen at all.

Skedded late morning, “Shinchan” averaged just 32,000 viewers in July, per ratings agency Sofres.

The government claimed a 23% market share for DTT by the end of May, made up of 1.75 million DTT homes, 1.3 million households that receive DTT channels via cable, and 253,000 subscribers to Internet TV service Imagenio.

But audience research company Barlovento put DTT’s July audience share at 2.4%.

Spain lags behind major Western European markets in DTT; France had 1.9 million DTT homes in June while the U.K. has 7.1 million DTT households.

“Penetration in Spain will have to reach 40%-50% before DTT can really function,” according to Jose Miguel Contreras, CEO of new Spanish terrestrial broadcaster La Sexta, which bowed in March

Reaching those levels may require government intervention.

“The U.K. TV license fee was structured to provide extra money for digital broadcasting (via pubcaster the BBC). Most other major markets in Europe have had subsidies to launch,” says Screen Digest senior analyst Guy Bisson.

But Spain’s ruling PSOE socialists might not be in a hurry to subsidize DTT.

Over the last year, it authorized two new analog broadcasters — La Sexta and Cuatro, which bowed late 2005.

Their liberal, modernizing ethos runs close to the government’s own convictions — and a vibrant multi-channel DTT could complicate these channels’ consolidation.

So Spain might miss its 2010 analog switch-off date.

“For a country like Spain, which is so far behind in DTT, a 2010 switchoff is extremely ambitious,” says Bisson.