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© Roberto Garver, courtesy La Sexta
Buenafuenta (La Sexta)
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Courtesy Antena 3
The television industry in Spain is going through a period of significant changes: this month sees the switching off of all analogue broadcasting, the major private broadcasters are discussing various mergers and take-overs, and adverts have been removed from the national public channels. But what does all this mean for the viewer?
For starters, there’s the change to televisión digital terrestre (digital terrestrial television) or TDT, which will be completed on April 3rd, by when Spain’s analogue signal will be completely switched off leaving only digital channels broadcasting (in Catalunya, the switch-off date is March 30th). The impact for viewers of this move can be summed up as: an increase in the number of digital channels available on free-to-air digital terrestrial television; a better quality image, supposedly; and, perhaps of most interest to many foreign residents, a greater availability of programming in English.
Most residents here are aware of the conversion (see below) and have taken steps to prepare for the digital age, but for anyone not sure of how it works, there are two necessary steps to be able to view TDT: the first is the conversion of your existing antenna to digital, and the second is to get a receiver system; this can either be a box or other mechanism that attaches to your existing set or you can treat yourself to a new TDT-enabled television, with the receiver built in.
At the time of going to press, already more than 80 percent of Spanish households had converted to TDT, with Catalunya being one of the areas with highest penetration at 86 percent, but it has been harder to reach more remote parts of the country. In early March, La Vanguardia newspaper reported difficulties for residents in the Costa Brava towns of Begur and Cadaqués in receiving a good digital signal following the switch-off of the local analogue signal.
“We have experienced technical problems in places like Galicia where it is a lot harder to get a perfect reception, but overall the transition to digital has gone very smoothly and we are confident that the deadline of March 30th for the switch-over will be met,” said Estefania Palacios, a press officer at the Spanish Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce, which is responsible for overseeing the transformation. Going forward, the Ministry will be keeping a close eye on digital developments at the national broadcasters, making sure that everything runs smoothly, remains above board and that the broadcasting companies stick to their promises.
Those national companies are divided between public (Televisión Española) and private (Telecinco, Antena 3, Cuatro and La Sexta) broadcasters, while there are also regional organisations such as the Catalan TV3, and Barcelona’s city channel, BTV. Televisión Española (TVE) started broadcasting in 1959, while the first private TV station here was Antena 3, which began transmissions in January 1990, closely followed by Telecinco in March of the same year; TV3 began in January 1984.
The conversion to digital sees TVE able to transmit up to eight channels on two multiplexes (the amount of bandwidth), while each free-to-air private broadcaster can offer four channels on one multiplex, as opposed to the current three. This change has seen many of Spain’s broadcasters take the opportunity to increase their channels.
For instance, the Telecinco Group offers in TDT its main channel, Telecinco, renowned for its reality shows, along with La Siete, which mostly broadcasts series, and Factoria de Ficcion, which shows series and films. “We are currently contemplating what content to put on the new [fourth] channel,” Ghislain Barrois, head of acquisitions at Telecinco, told Metropolitan.
Meanwhile, Cuatro offers on TDT its main channel, which includes a lot of talent and quiz shows, music channel 40 Latino and rolling news channel CNN+.
However, Telecinco recently reached an agreement with the owner of Cuatro, PRISA, in which Telecinco will take over Cuatro and the potential digital output of the fused group will increase to eight. But while the two companies have already agreed to the deal, they must wait until the EU’s Competition Authority approves the take-over, which is likely to be in June.
“As far as the content is concerned, we’ll acquire Cuatro’s library and add it to ours and see what fits best,” said Ghislain Barrois. Once the deal is confirmed though, Telecinco plans to eliminate 40 Latino, keep CNN+ for a short period of time and then decide what channels they would like to add.
At the same time, Telecinco’s main rival Antena 3 is hoping to merge with La Sexta, which is hot on sports, such as the Formula One racing and Spanish league football. The deal is expected to be sealed and approved in the coming months, but for now it is being kept officially under wraps.
Antena 3 has already been active in the digital arena for the past three years on their main channel, and will be looking to push the popularity of their additional channels, Neox and Nova, with the new digital drive. “We will be launching the Golden Globe winning US series Glee on Neox [on March 22nd] as a way to show that we want to make it the official eighth channel in the current Spanish TV landscape,” said Mercedes Gamero, head of acquisitions at Antena 3. “We will also be showing another US series, Lie To Me, and we will have a future film slot on Saturdays for all types of movies.”
Gamero also confirmed that their intention going forward is to have their content available in both English and Castilian on all their channels. Ghislain Barrois, at Telecinco, also insisted there will be more English-language content, especially from the US.
It’s not all good news though. More channels means the need for more content to be available. One solution from the private commercial companies could be to filter some of the premium content from their main channels through to their smaller channels. It is also possible that they will turn some of their free-to-air channels into pay channels because they are too expensive to maintain for the small audience they draw. Antena 3 will probably do this for premium content like football, but maybe also for some of their popular series.
Meanwhile, Spanish public broadcaster TVE is using several of its additional channels for specialist content. “We’ll have Teledeportes for sport, Clan TVE for children’s programmes, TVE news [24h], Cultural.es for content suited to a more sophisticated audience and much more,” said Gustavo Ferrada, a senior TVE executive.
In a twist to proceedings at TVE, the Spanish government ruled at the end of last year that the public broadcaster had to remove all advertising from its national channels, a requirement that came into effect at the start of 2010. In its first weekend of ad-free broadcasting in January, TVE won the largest audience share for its Saturday night film, suggesting viewers welcome the opportunity of watching programmes without the extended ad breaks so common here.
However, the move to take advertising, and its revenue, away from TVE came about due to less altruistic reasons. The private broadcasters argued that with 40 channels in each city, due to the output of the different national, regional and city television companies, there wasn’t enough advertising to maintain them all and that TVE had an unfair advantage through its support from the state.
With this reduction in the number of channels showing ads, the idea was that the advertisers would split the money they previously spent appearing on TVE between the private broadcasters. But the reality could be somewhat different. Ghislain Barrois at Telecinco is concerned that they won’t see a huge increase in advertising revenue. “If you look at France, where the public advertising collapsed, private broadcaster TF1 was convinced it would get a bigger share of the revenue, but that didn’t happen, the money just disappeared,” he said.
In a further potential knock to Telecinco and Antena 3, as a result of the no advertising policy on TVE, the government has decided that free-to-air private broadcasters should invest three percent of their annual income in the public broadcaster, while pay-TV companies will invest 1.5 percent and telecommunication outfits 0.9 percent.
It will take time for all these changes to settle in, and in the meantime, viewers will have no choice but to settle back and see what’s on the box.
IS DIGITAL BETTER THAN ANALOGUE?
- Digital reception tends to be better overall, particu- larly with a good signal.
- Many more channels can fit on the digital transmission.
- Increased electricity consumption by the digital receiving equipment.
- Analogue requires a lower signal strength to get a viewable picture.
TELEVISION IN SPAIN AND CATALUNYA
- National broadcaster Televisión Española (TVE) is backed by government funds and now also supported by investment from private TV broadcasters and telecommunications outfits. TVE’s two main channels are La 1, which offers more mainstream content, and La 2, whose output is more cultural. Also offers several specialist channels, such as the sports-focused Teledeporte, 24h with non-stop news and Clan for children.
- Each Spanish region has at least one public channel, such as TV3 in Catalunya—each station is paid for by the relevant regional government.
- Barcelona TV is a public channel that broadcasts within the city, focusing on programmes featuring residents and local news; many Catalan towns have such a channel.
- Antena 3 was the first private TV station to broadcast in Spain back in 1990, and is most noted for its series, such as El Internado, Los Hombres de Paco and Los Simpsons. Hopes to take over rival broadcaster La Sexta, which specialises in sport.
- Cuatro is currently owned by major media group Prisa, but could be taken over by Telecinco into a new entity. As well as its main channel, Cuatro also owns music channel 40 Latino and rolling-news broadcaster CNN+.
- Sony Entertainment Television, owned by Sony, plays mostly US series.
- Disney Channel, owned by the Walt Disney Corporation, shows mostly kids’ programmes.
- In Catalunya, 8tv, part of the Grupo Godó that also owns La Vanguardia newspaper, is the biggest private channel.
Private (Pay TV)
- Canal Plus Spain offers its Digital + channels on digital terrestrial television.