Spain’s La Sexta, Warner sign deal

Pact replaces agreement with RTVE

MADRID — In what is likely to be one of the biggest TV deals of the year in Spain, commercial web La Sexta has splashed out some E30 million ($40.7 million) for a three-year, exclusive, free-to-air TV output deal with Warner Bros. Intl. Television Distribution.

La Sexta is betting on higher-profile programming to retain auds as it migrates to free-to-air digital terrestrial on April 2 when Spain turns off its analog signal.

Starting this season, deal gives La Sexta new dramas and features, including “Invictus,” “Sherlock Holmes” and “Gran Torino” plus access to a wide range of Warner Bros. library movies, including blockbuster franchises “Harry Potter” and “Batman.”

WBITD has transferred to La Sexta the multi-year output deal arrangement it previously held with pubcaster RTVE as part of a larger WBITD deal for Spain, which saw RTVE sharing titles with regional pubcaster association Forta.

For years, some Warner Bros. product had underperformed on the pubcaster, whose core 50-plus demo didn’t always mesh with younger-skewing studio fare. La Sexta “fits perfectly with our current and future series, for which we are pleased to expand our relationship to include movies,” said WBITD prexy Jeffrey R. Schlesinger.

The WB-Sexta relationship started in 2006 with the acquisition of Spanish free TV rights to “The Sopranos.” In 2008, TVE authorized La Sexta to ink with WB on “The Mentalist” and “Cold Case.”

As a prelude to the output deal, La Sexta and WBITD closed in February free TV rights to skeins “The Forgotten,” “Human Target” and “Past Life,” as well as the two last seasons of series “ER,” broadcast in Spain by TVE from 1996.

For La Sexta, the WBITD deal is “a leap in channel strategy, taking on the challenge of continued growth and offering viewers leading entertainment content of its kind,” said La Sexta CEO Jose Miguel Contreras.

Launched in March 2006 by Spanish media conglom Imagina and Mexican TV giant Televisa, La Sexta has sports rights, mainly Saturday-night soccer, as its programming engine.

Last month, Sexta averaged a 6.2% audience share in Spain’s rapidly fragmenting TV market, becoming its fourth highest-rating private web.

With the analog switch-off just around the corner in Spain, Sexta aims “to build comfortable carriages” with first-runs of Hollywood films, Contreras added.

From 2011, Sexta looks set to exploit a second nationwide free-to-air TV channel that could host an undisclosed percentage of WB content.

Now that La Sexta’s merger negotiations with DeAPlaneta’s broadcaster Antena 3 look to be cooling — for the time being at least — another issue is if Sexta is covering with its WBITD deal the possibility of a definitive breakdown in merger talks.