Spain 2014 in Review: Box Office Booms, Tourists Flock to 'Game of Thrones'

Spanish Affair Still - H 2014
Pedro Alborenoz

Spanish Affair Still - H 2014

A very profitable 'Affair' helped Spain bounce back

The Spanish film industry turned a corner in 2014, getting a reprieve from the financial crisis that has suffocated the country for the past seven years. Record earnings for homegrown films, an ad market that is perking up, and a telecom giant that is flexing its muscle worldwide marked 2014 as the year of the comeback in Spain. New tough anti-piracy legislation, however, has been controversial, and even led Google News to pull up roots and leave the country.

Here are the five stories that mattered from Spain this year.

Much-debated Intellectual Property Law Passed

After more than a year in the works and seemingly endless negotiations, the Spanish government passed its much-anticipated and hotly-debated Intellectual Property Law in an attempt to stem the rampant piracy in Spain. But the law—set to take effect January 2015—was immediately rejected by the industry as loosely worded, vague and ineffective.

Dubbed the Google Tax, the legislation allowed for sanctions of up to $758,000 for linking to pirated content, including articles in newspapers and magazines.

Google News reacted immediately by announcing it would quit operations in Spain as of Dec. 16.  It is still unclear if other aggregators will follow suit.

Spanish films hit box office high

In terms of money earned, tickets sold and market share, Spanish films rocked 2014 with a 25.5 percent of box office tickets sold, the best in 37 years of tracking. The figure is largely thanks to a bumper crop of home-grown films that together grossed $153 million.

The box office sensation A Spanish Affair alone earned an astounding $69.5 million in Spanish theaters, making it the most profitable Spanish film of all time and the second top earner ever in Spain behind Avatar.

Game of Thrones shoots Season 5 in Spain

Some 86,000 people showed up when Fresco Films called auditions to cast 600 extras for the fifth season of Game of Thrones. Fans mobbed Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Toby Sebastian when they came to shoot in southern Spain.

U.S. Ambassador to Spain, James Costos—a former HBO executive—said initial figures showed that shooting parts of the hit series had already boosted local tourism by 15 percent just two weeks into filming.

Southern Spain is speckled with Moorish fortresses, like Seville’s Alcazar and Old Royal Palace, and majestic gardens that could be featured in the series. Rumors suggest Spain might represent the Kingdom of Dorne, which the series has yet to debut.

New legislation in Spain that adds incentives for foreign productions to shoot in Spain looks to build on the GOT effect, but had the local industry divided on whether the incentives wouldn’t be better spent on domestic production.

Spanish ad investment looking up

The Spanish advertising market grew 9.9 percent in the first nine months of 2014, marking the first sustained growth in years.  Investment  in the TV ad market for the first nine months of the year grew 6.9 percent to $1.6 billion, compared with the same period from the previous year.

For Spanish private broadcasters Atresmedia and Telecinco that translated to a welcome jump in earnings, with Atresmedia leaping 66.7 percent in its first nine-months, with its Mediaset-controlled rival reporting a similar 68 percent rise in the first nine months.

Research company Arce Media said the good news was thanks to a general sunnier outlook in Spain, pointing to the 0.6 percent gain in Spain’s quarterly GNP and a 4.2 percent growth in brands.

Spain’s Telefonica Flexes its Muscle

In a sustained show of strength, Spanish telecom giant Telefonica made bold moves in 2014. With a declared strategy to bundle services, the telecom became Spain's most powerful pay-TV operator overnight after media group Prisa accepted its binding offer to buy its 56 percent stake in pay platform Digital Plus for approximately $1 billion, adding to the telecom's minority stake and giving it 78 percent of Spain's leading platform.

EU anti-trust regulators have thrown up a red flag, claiming the operation is likely to adversely affect competition. Spain’s competition watchdog is examining the case.

But that was only one of Telefonica’s purchases on this year’s shopping spree. The company also bought Global Village Telecom from France’s Vivendi for $9.3 billion, turning it into Latin America’s largest operator.