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BUENOS AIRES — Faced with a slowing economy and rising inflation, Argentina’s TV industry is sticking with classics — a trend that is forcing producers to find new ways to raise finances.

Broadcasters and producers are going with what they know they will work, like long-running satirical news roundup “Caiga Quien Caiga” and yakker “Susana Gimenez” on Telefe, and variety program “ShowMatch” on Artear-Canal 13, says Sandra Zabala, investigations director at media buyer EPM Gustavo Quiroga.

Viewers want “to see what they are familiar with,” she adds.

This demand has kept local fare on top in primetime, with foreign programming getting in only as adaptations. Local versions of format “Dancing With the Stars,” “Got Talent” and “The Hole in the Wall” have done well this year.

“Foreign content is very expensive and doesn’t produce the ratings we expect,” says Artear acquisitions manager Walter Sequeira, who is looking for series, films and special programs for afternoon and weekend slots. “It is cheaper to produce our own content and we know that it will bring good ratings.”

The low-risk strategy has a lot to do with the economy, which is expected to slow to 6.5% growth rate this year and 2.5% in 2009 after five years of expansion at a rate of some 8%.

Production costs are rising in the context of the nation’s 20%-25% annual price and wage inflation. A stronger local currency is also hiking costs and making it harder to export at a time when broadcasters are putting limits on programming prices.

“We don’t have competitive prices any more” on program exports, says Victor Gonzalez, a partner at producer RGB Entertainment.

To stay contenders, producers are testing new formats. RGB and Cris Morena Group are producing “Atrapados,” a telenovela of 80 one-minute episodes for mobile phones and the web. Gonzalez expects cell phone operators to buy it and to order original series for promoting services.

The duo is also prepping “Jake and Blake,” the first English-lingo fiction series produced in Argentina, toplined by Benjamin Rojas of “Rebelde Way” (The Rebels). Gonzalez expects to attract deep-pocket partners — possibly Disney and Mexico’s Televisa — because it’s an English-langauge program, to help them skirt the financial tightness at home.

Budgets for imports will remain low. This is largely because a cable penetration of more than 50% means many films and series are first released on pay networks.

TOP 3

“ShowMatch” (Canal 13)

“Susana Gimenez” (Telefe)

“Por amor a vos” (Canal 13)