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Territory Reports: Spain

Networks savor 'golden age for dramas'

MADRID — Spain’s broadcasting execs will arrive at the L.A. Screenings with their gloves off, already immersed in a tough battle for free-to-air rights to U.S. dramas. 

It’s an ongoing faceoff arising from the launch of two analog broadcasters during the 2005-06 season — Sogecable’s Cuatro and Imagina/ Televisa’s La Sexta.

“The interest in U.S. dramas remains the same as last year,” says Ghislain Barrois, acquisitions head at Mediaset’s Telecinco (broadcaster of the “CSI” franchise). “It could hardly be higher. … Their value hasn’t been diminished, like movies. They’re still accessibly priced.”

Showing their growing impact in Spain’s free-to-air TV market, international dramas — mainly from the U.S. — occupied 10.8% of Spanish free-to-air airtime in 2005 before rising to 14.1% in 2006, per audience research company Corporacion Multimedia.

“We’re living a golden age for U.S. dramas,” says Alejandro Florez, head of programming, foreign production for Cuatro, whose flagship is “House.” “Five years ago, movies drove majors’ deals. Now it’s drama.”

However, because pubcaster RTVE and Forta’s regional channels share deals with NBC Universal, Sony-

Columbia and Warner that include feature films and ser-ies, the number of available U.S. dramas is limited. Buena Vista and Fox dramas could well be among Screenings targets.

Amid all the drama for drama, it’s also worth noting that prices for U.S. hourlongs have increased 20%, according to Antena 3 head of acquisitions and sales Mercedes Gamero, though paradoxically, only three U.S. brands — Antena 3’s “The Simpsons,” “CSI” and “House” — are mass audience pulls in Spain.

Other product — Cuatro’s “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Ghost Whisperer,” Telecinco’s “Criminal Minds” and Antena 3’s “Without a Trace” — maintain acceptable audience levels.

This reflects fragmentation. For Cuatro and La Sexta, a 14% share is a hit, says media analyst Eduardo Garcia Matilla. Many new U.S. dramas are considered free-to-air niche product.

From 2006 U.S. shows, only “Heroes,” broadcast on some Forta channels, has caught fire in Spain. But 2007 production is promising.

“Some pilots look strong, suggesting a return to complete-story episodes, ‘CSI’-style,” Gamero says.

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