TV audiences tune out Spanish films

Nets rethink strategy as feature ratings slide

MADRID — Movies are breaking records on TV in Spain — but for bad reasons.

Ratings for pics on the main terrestrial webs have reached an all-time low. The favorite among auds in the just-finished 2006-07 season was “Finding Nemo,” with 5.3 million viewers, a worst-ever season champion.

By contrast, 1994 record-holder “Pretty Woman” turned 9.2 million eyeballs.

Stats covering the slots for movies also set new standards of unpopularity.

Antena 3’s share for “The Big Picture” shrunk from 20.5% in early 2006 to 15.6% by April 18. TVE’s “Movie of the Week” plummeted from 20.5% to 16.4%. Telecinco’s “Cinema Five Stars” lowered its bar from 19.3% to 17.1%.

Pervasive P2P-ing, multiple windows before free TV and dirt-cheap DVDs have all withered movies’ value on TV, as they have in the U.S.

The collapse is re-shaping industry practices.

For webs, movies don’t come cheap in Spain. Broadcasters pay an average E1 million ($1.4 million) for three or four runs. Top titles can cost $2 million to $3 million, and some, even more.

In contrast, U.S. skeins command $50,000 to $80,000 per episode.

But, led by Antena 3, broadcasters used to roll out big movies to pump channel share in times of need.

Now most movies perform below the average channel shares of 20.7% for Telecinco, 18.1% for Antena 3, and 17.8% for TVE. So the practice is falling into disuse.

Spanish films have also taken a hit. Quotas oblige broadcasters to spend 5% of annual revenues buying Spanish or European films.

But only three Spanish films made it into the top 100 movies on TV in 2006, led by Santiago Segura starrer “Isi & Disi” (3.4 million viewers, 18.8%). Not that that says much for their ratings.

So, rather than acquiring broadcast rights, broadcasters prefer to take co-production equity in local pics and look for potential profits in Spanish theatrical and DVD or foreign ancillaries.

Spanish producers bitterly protest this practice. But open TV now seems the last place — not just in chronology but increasingly in numbers — where Spaniards catch a good movie.

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