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Economy slows Spanish TV surge

Country feted at Cannes confab

Spain’s audiovisual market will be the center of attention at the Mipcom confab Oct. 13-17 — highlighted by a series of sessions designed to introduce conference delegates to this surging yet stumbling territory.

To be sure, Spain’s TV biz has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. In addition to new channels entering the domestic market, revenue from Spanish TV exports increased 26.8% to $49.6 million from 2001 to 2007, per Spanish producers org Fapae.

But all is not perfect in the land of Don Quixote. On an annual basis, TV ad investment dropped 4.1% through June for terrestrial broadcasters. Plus, auds are increasingly fragmenting, generating fears about the future.

After several seasons as two of Europe’s most profitable TV operators, Spain’s leading private webs Telecinco and Antena 3 TV saw first-half profits fall 6% and 31%, respectively.

Crisis isn’t biting so hard at newbies Sogecable’s Cuatro and Imagina-Televisa’s La Sexta, thanks to lighter costs structures. Cuatro moved into the black last year; La Sexta still forecasts breakeven for 2010.

Moreover, pubcaster CRTVE announced a surprising $26 million profit for 2007, drawing both ad revs and public financing, after the Spanish government took over RTVE’s $11.1 billion debt.

Some believe the analog switch-off, scheduled for April 2010, may prove traumatic for Spain. “When it comes, we’ll face a TV market with 40-plus free-to-air channels, all fighting for the same ad cake,” says a Madrid-based analyst.

Sexta and A3 execs are tubthumping for new regs allowing pay TV content on DTT, to counteract the glut of ad-driven channels. Authorization remains in the Spanish government’s hands.

Last season, Telecinco’s adaptation of Caracol TV drama “Sin tetas no hay paraiso” (Without Tits There Is No Paradise), which pulled in a 22.6% rating, and Antena 3 youth dramedy “Physics or Chemistry,” which drew 18.2%, were some of the few rookie series that snagged above-channel averages.

Top hits were golden oldies: Globomedia’s social sitcom “Aida” (28.5%) and Videomedia’s “ER”-style drama “Central Hospital” (23.5%), both from Telecinco, and retro drama “Remember When,” (20.3%) airing on RTVE’s La 1.

Despite some incursions, with mixed results, into local TV fiction, Cuatro’s most popular content in primetime consisted of U.S. skeins, especially “House” (13.8%). While also betting on international dramas, La Sexta has found its main audience lure in sports — especially Saturday night soccer.

A traditional source of hits for Mediaset’s Telecinco, reality formats gave a leg up to Cuatro and Antena 3, with talent show “Fama” (Fame) and house-renovation show “Esta casa es una ruina” (This House Is a Wreck), respectively.

Local fiction dominance is not new in Spain. The launch of private webs in 1990 drove the growth of a solid indie TV production sector, encouraging mid-decade creation of local production houses, headed by conglom Imagina’s Globomedia.

Channels have benefited from local TV dramas winning massive ratings. “We tried to make a kind of fiction very similar to the U.S. in production methods, designing long-running series. Their legs proved very attractive for broadcasters,” explains Alfonso Mardones, Globomedia general director, operations. Globomedia’s fiction production style has been adopted by the rest of Spanish TV industry.

Production standards are now rising, with companies often shooting in HD.

That’s helped exports. International TV deals are now flowing steadily.

Animation has been traditionally the hottest TV genre from Spain flowing overseas, but now Spanish TV fiction has entered the international game.

“Spaniards are learning to export TV dramas,” says Goyo Quintana, general manager at TV production company Ida y Vuelta, which at the last Mip TV confab launched an international sales division to handle skeins such as “Physics or Chemistry.”

Europe is the main market for both Spanish fiction formats and original productions, says Geraldine Gonard, sales director at Imagina Intl. Sales. But Asia is now opening up interesting opportunities, she adds.

The range of fiction in Spain has broadened. Spanish nationwide channels now have about 35 dramas in production or pre-production, increasingly involving a new generation of young scriptwriters, directors and producers.

“Spanish primetime lasts a long time. So channels can attract more ad investment slots and producers can create more content. This is a distinguishing characteristic of Spain,” says French-born exec Nathalie Garcia, general director at Notro TV.

Some channels are often opting for genre skeins with a filmic flavor, influenced by the U.S. drama boom. One example: TVE family thriller “Desaparecida” (The Woman Who Disappeared), winner of the Monte Carlo TV Festival’s award for best European producer of a drama TV series. New-fiction execs at pubcaster TVE have teamed with young producer Ramon Campos, showrunner on “Desaparecida,” to create police drama “Guante blanco” (White Glove), while filmmaker Alex de la Iglesia has just finished sci-fi sitcom “Pluton BRB Nero” for TVE cultural web La 2.

Genre or film influences in fiction don’t guarantee audiences, however.

“For new dramas, it’s difficult to consolidate in primetime because of the loyalty commanded by old series,” Mardones says.