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RTVE's impossible dream: money, ratings ... now!

Crisis-ridden Television Espanola (TVE), Spain's national public broadcaster, is at the mercy of a besieged man: David Nogueira, the commercial director of program sales for the two "oxymoronic" TVE1 and TVE2 channels - i.e. advertising-supported public networks. Additionally, he is responsible for bringing in programming to keep a fickle audience away from TVE's young but unrelentingly ambitious commercial rivals.

In 1990, Spanish viewers were introduced their first private stations - Tele 5, Antena 3 (A3) and Canal Plus. Now TVE is financially bleeding from the damage being inflicted by the commercial channels in the consequent rating war. The future could be even less promising with the planned legislation to legitimize satellite and cable TV.

"I believe we can fight by buying as many programs as we have ever bought. This time, however, we are going to be more selective," explained an upbeat Nogueira. Like all public broadcasters, TVE has a duty to not only entertain, which it does on TVE1, but also inform with factual, cultural and sports programming, as it does on TVE2.

For five years, however, it has had to operate without government subsidy and rely on only advertising revenue - until the commercial networks arrived on the scene.

Partly owned by marauding media moguls Rupert Murdoch and Antonio Asensio (A3), plus Silvio Berlusconi (Tele5), and Andre Rousselet (Canal Plus), the newcomers are out for the kill. And Canal Plus is already profitable. Not shackled by any obligation to educate the public, they want the biggest audiences, and the biggest advertisers.

In the year 1992, Tele5's audience share leapt four per cent to 20.8 per cent; A3 accounted for 14.7 per cent.

They have dented the two TVE channels' combined share to 32.6 per cent from 41.1 per cent, and hence its advertising revenue. Nogueira disputes the figures and says TVE has still retained about a 40 per cent share.

In 1991, TVE's advertising revenue slumped 24 per cent. Last year, it earned about $1 billion from advertising, which will just about cover this year's budget. And, according to union reports, it has debts of Ptats 100 billion ($847 million).

RTVE, responsible for both public radio and TV, is once again asking for subsidy - a reported $290 million - from a financially strapped Spanish government.

It is amidst this turbulent TV battlefield that Nogueira, a 48-year-old former lawyer, has to revive his stations' flagging audience profile with more imaginative program acquisition and aggressive selling tactics. "Yes, I plan to be buying more commercial types of programming for TVE1, but I have no plans to change the [cultural and sports] programming format of TVE2."

Now that TVE has lost its monopoly, Nogueira finds himself in a tougher position when bargaining for feature films, prices for which have increased 10-fold in some cases. He also criticizes the highly distorted prices for foreign programs. "In my opinion, the prices are far higher than they actually are worth," he complained.

He is confident of winning the ratings feud. His acquisition budget easily exceeds his rivals. "Although the advertising on TVE has decreased, the network has plenty of money. It is still the biggest spender," said Miguel Perez, spokesperson for the Madrid-based arm of MGM/UA, which sells feature films. TVE dominates Spain's top 30 programs with such programs as Martes Y Trece and Hola Rafaela, two popular shows, plus the factual Quien Sabe Donde.

Recently, TVE's parent company RTVE announced plans to develop its in-house production company. It is expected to be producing some 10 theatrical films per year, undoubtedly by leveraging its initial $8 million funding through co-ventures and co-productions. However, it is not expected to be a film-funding operation with independent filmmakers as in the past. In this new venture RTVE is to retain creative input and distribution rights.
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Title Annotation:Radio and Television Espanola
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Words:630
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