Spain union chief decries TV changes

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MADRID -- The head of Spain's private television association has charged that the country's television landscape will be unrecognizable in five years, contending that changes ahead for the TV industry are confronted with increased fragmentation, politicization, government interference and digital adoption.

Speaking at the European Forum on the state of private television in Spain, Alejandro Echevarria, president of the Union de Televisiones Comerciales, outlined a bleak scenario following the addition of new free-to-air channels Cuatro and La Sexta, two new digital terrestrial platforms, the onslaught of more digital channels and the arrival of Internet television.

"In just 18 months -- the time of two pregnancies -- we've gone from a private sector with two analog, commercial general, national free-to-air channels to four, without the advertising market -- the only financing tool -- growing at the same rate," Echevarria said.

Echevarria also denounced the increasing meddling of regional authorities in local television with respect to political and cultural content.

"We have to decide between freedom of expression as indicated in the constitution and business dynamics," Echevarria said.

In a lengthy presentation, the UTECA chief, who also is the president of leading Spanish TV channel Telecinco, railed against the government's proposed Film Law, which not only calls on the broadcasters to continue investing 5% of revenues in Spanish cinema, but changes the broadcasters' definition so that it cannot act as an independent producer and must always co-produce films.

"We are the ones that finance more than 70% of Spanish cinema, (the proposed law) wants to maintain the 5% of gross revenues obligatory investment and, additionally, turn that investment into a cost by telling us how we have to make it," Echevarria said. "This proposal has been a bitter surprise for the private broadcasters."

He also demanded that the government decrease the present 12 minutes of advertising per natural hour allowed on pubcaster TVE to nine minutes to avoid "unfair competition with the private sector."

Echevarria asked the Ministry of Industry to negotiate the analog blackout -- scheduled for April 2010 -- which foresees the broadcasters foot the bill for the transition to digital without direct financial support from the government.

The head of UTECA also questioned the European Union's Audiovisual Services Directive, which intends to limit advertising on private channels, saying it may be "more liberal, but also more limiting on the free market because it limits a private channel's advertising revenue, its only source of financing."
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