Five national channels now serve a Spanish population of 39.4 million and a television audience of 29.2 million. Of these five, two, TVE-I and TVE-2 are state-owned, financed by subsidy and advertising. Antena -3 and Telecinco are private channels, financed by advertising); Canal+ is private, financed by subscription.

Eight regional channels also contribute to the Spanish television environment: TV-3 and Canal 33 (financed by advertising and subsidy of Catalan government); Canal Sur (financed by advertising and subsidy of Andalusian government); Telemadrid: (property of Madrid regional government, financed by advertising and bank loans); Canal 9 (financed by advertising and subsidy of Valencian government); TVG (financed by advertising and subsidy of Galician government); ETB-I and ETB-2 (financed by advertising and subsidy of Basque government). Projects for cable television in the year 2000 speculate that 3 million TV households will be connected with 1 million subscribing. By that year, Spain will have exceeded nine decades of broadcasting.

In 1908, the Spanish government enacted a law that gave the central state the right to establish and exploit "all systems and apparatuses related to the so-called 'Hertzian telegraph,' 'ethereal telegraph, 'radiotelegraph,' and other similar procedures already invented or that will be invented in the future." Scattered experiments in radiowave communication evolved into regular broadcasts by 1921 with such events as Radio Castilla's program of concerts from the Royal Theater of Madrid. In 1924, the first official license for radio was granted, and all experimental stations were ordered to cease broadcasting and request state authorization. The first "legal" radio broadcast began in Barcelona and, like most radio programs that preceded the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), it was started up by private investors to make a profit. The broadcasting law of 1934 defined radio as "an essential and exclusive function of the state" and was amended in 1935 to confirm that all "sounds and images already in use or to be invented in the future" would be established and exploited by the state.

The government of the Second Republic (1931-39) kept centralized control over spectrum allocation and the diffusion of costly high-power transmitters, while it encouraged independent operators to install low-power transmitters for local radio. Radio spread with investments in urban zones, and only one significant private chain, the Union Radio, showed signs of economic concentration. The conditions of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) halted the growth of independent radio when broadcasters were transformed into voices of military propaganda on both sides of the conflict. The leader of the fascist insurgents, Francisco Franco, ordered the nationalization of all radio stations under the direction of the new state, and the existing collection of transmitters merged into a state-controlled network called Radio Nacional de Espana. Use of the distinct idioms of Basque, Catalan, Galician was outlawed, and new laws aimed at the press gave the Ministry of the Interior full power to suppress communication which "directly, or indirectly, may tend to reduce the prestige of the Nation or Regime, to obstruct the work of the government of the new State, or sow pernicious ideas among the intellectually weak."

The first public demonstration of television took place in Barcelona in 1948 as part of a promotion by the multinational communications firm Philips. Experiments continued until October of 1956, when the first official TV broadcast appeared on an estimated six hundred television sets in Madrid--the program consisted of a mass conducted by Franco's chaplain, a speech by the Minister of Information and Tourism commemorating the twenty year regime, and a French language documentary. Much of the early programming came from the U.S. Embassy, but there were also live transmissions of variety and children's shows, and a news program was started in 1957. By 1958 there were approximately thirty thousand TV sets in Madrid. From the beginning, Television Espanola (TVE) was supported by advertising, although it also received subsidies derived from a luxury tax on television receivers. In 1959, TVE reached Barcelona via terrestrial lines, where a second studio was soon installed. At the end of the decade, there were fifty thousand sets in use. Through Eurovision, Spanish viewers joined European viewers in an audience of some fifty million, and one of the first images they shared was the historic meeting in Madrid between Franco and Eisenhower. By 1962, TVE claimed its sole VHF channel covered 65% of the Spanish territory and was viewed regularly by one percent of the population.

Television was a strictly urban phenomenon at this time, and there were only two production centers, one in Madrid and one in Barcelona. Transmissions originated from Madrid and were relayed in one direction to the rest of the territory. In 1964, a modern studio and office building were erected in Madrid to commemorate the 28th anniversary of the regime, and a year later, a second channel (TVE-2, UHF) with production studios located in Madrid and Barcelona, began testing. In 1965, the luxury tax on television sets was eliminated, making advertising the major resource for TVE-I and TVE-2. Estimates put yearly advertising investment in television at $1 million by the early 1960s, while airtime increased from 28 to 70 hours a week between 1958 and 1964, rising to 110 hours in 1972. Advertising income for TVE multiplied one-hundred times between 1961 and 1973, reaching estimated totals of over $100 million

. In the early 1970s, new regional centers were constructed in Bilbao, Oviedo (Asturias), Santiago de Compostela (Galicia), Valencia, and Seville (Andalusia). The entire system was finally united with radio in 1973 and was placed under the management of one state-owned corporation, Radio Television Espanola (RTVE). The regional circuit was wired into a highly centralized network in which all regional broadcasts were obliged to pass through Madrid. The only centers with the capacity to produce programs of any length were those in Barcelona and the Canary Islands. Though the records of RTVE management during the Franco dictatorship are unreliable, one study for 1976 reported that the Barcelona center contributed 3% of the total broadcast hours, followed by the center at Las Palmas in the Canary Islands at 2.9%. The rest transmitted a negligible amount of 1.8 to 1.85% of the total. The one way flow from the center to the regions was an effect of the Franco regime's centralism, which kept the regional centers (other than Barcelona and Las Palmas) from connecting with Madrid.

Television in Spain changed radically in the years following the death of Francisco Franco in 1975. In 1980, the government enacted a reform statute which established norms to ensure that a plurality of political parties would control RTVE. The Statute of RTVE also stipulated that broadcasting should be treated as an essential public service and that it should defend open and free expression. The Statute called for the upgrading of the regional circuit with a view to this becoming the basis for a network of television stations operated by regional governments, whose recognition in the constitution of 1978 was part of the reorganization of Spain as a "State of the Autonomies." The parliaments of the newly formed autonomous governments of the Basque Country and Catalonia founded their own television systems--the Basques in May 1982, the Catalans a year later. These actions resulted in the most decisive change in the broadcast structure since radio was nationalized during the Spanish Civil War, as they contravened existing laws that gave the central state the right to control all technology using the electromagnetic spectrum. In response, the central government enacted the Third Channel Law in 1984 in order to regulate the establishment of any additional networks in the regions.

The Third Channel Law was designed to stabilize the process of decentralization of the television industry, and it was based in the principle of recognition for the cultures, languages, and communities within the Spanish territory--suppressed during the forty-year Franco dictatorship. The law stipulated that regional networks remain under the state's control and within the RTVE infrastructure. Parliaments in Catalonia, the Basque Country, and Galicia resisted control by the central state and set up technical structures that ran parallel to, but separate from, the national network. Despite ongoing legal battles between the central state and the regions over rights of access to regional airwaves and rights of ownership of the infrastructure, eleven autonomous broadcast companies have been founded, six of which were broadcasting regularly by 1995. In 1989, the directors of these systems agreed to merge into a national federation of autonomous broadcasters, known as the Federation of Autonomous Radio and Television Organizations (FORTA).

Between 1975 and 1990, Spanish television emerged from a system of absolute state control to a regulated system in which both privately- and publicly-owned channels compete for advertising sales within national and regional markets. This structure was completed with the development of the 1988 law and technical plan for private television. The law furnished three licenses for the bidding of private corporations, a three-phase framework for the extension of universal territorial coverage, and restrictions on legal ownership to promote multiple partnerships, rather than monopoly control, and to limit foreign ownership. The technical plan created an independent public company, Retevision, to manage the network infrastructure, abolishing RTVEs economic and political control over the airwaves. Today all broadcasters must pay an access fee to use the public infrastructure. Regular transmissions from the private companies began in 1990.

The signals of state-owned Television Espanola cover 98.5 % of the territory with its first channel and 94.7 percent with its second. Privately owned stations, Antena-3 and Telecinco, cover 80% of the territory, as does the subscription service Canal+, which has 1 million subscribers. On the regional scale, TV-3 and Canal 33 cover Catalonia with Catalan language programs, having significant spillover into contiguous regions and parts of France, reaching beyond their official audience of 5.8 million. Canal Sur covers the Andalusian audience of 6.7 million.


Telemadrid, owned by the regional government of Madrid, reaches an official audience of 4.8 million. Valencia's Canal 9's 3.7 million viewers can watch programs in Valenciano, a language similar to Catalan. Signals of TVG in Galicia spill over into northern Portugal and parts of Asturias in Spain, taking Galician language programming to more than the region's 2.6 million viewers. ETB-I and ETB-2 cover the Basque Country, and parts of surrounding provinces to reach beyond the official audience of 2 million; notably ETB-I broadcasts in the Basque language (Euskera), while ETB-2 does so in Spanish.

Ninety-eight percent of Spanish households have a television set, 86% have a color receiver (in contrast, 76% have a radio). In 1980, only one percent of Spanish households had a VCR, today 42% of them do, and in over 10% of them a video is watched each day. On average, Spaniards watch about three and a half hours of television a day, mostly in the afternoon and late evening hours. They are shown films 25.9% of the time, followed by series (15.4%), kids programs (12%), news (11.2%), musicals and variety shows (10%), sports (9.2%), and game shows and other programs (16.3%). Since 1993, the categories of programs they watched most often were soccer, sitcoms, reality TV shows, tabloid interview shows, and films or teleseries. The largest audience in every yearly account watches a soccer match on TVE. In 1993, the second and third largest audiences watched live broadcasts of political debates between the Spanish president and the opposition leader on private TV channels. A reality-TV show on TVE-I, Quien sabe donde, based on the American sensationalist format of true crime and human curiosities, consistently ranks among the top five most watched programs. Also among the leading formats is Lo que necesitas es amor, which spotlights "plain folks" and their concerns and pleasures about intimacy and sexuality. The American films or teleseries most watched in 1994 were Pretty Woman, Scarlett, Doctor Quinn, and Police Academy Two; a Spanish teleseries bettered the American competition once in 1994, though with a smaller audience than Pretty Woman. Spaniards also like to watch a situation comedy called Farmacia en guardia, about neighborhood life that centers around a family-run pharmacy. These preferences vary in each of the six regions where regional broadcasters compete with national programming.

The period 1990 to 1994 shows a trend of equalization of audience shares among the major national networks, with decreases in TVE-I and 2 probably caused by increases in Antena-3 and Telecinco. TVE-2's decline began with the establishment of the regional systems, though in the most recent "war over audiences," TVE-2 lost significant numbers to the private channels. On the regional scale, the companies of the autonomous communities have retained a stable audience, though the aggregate figures hide the dominance of the Catalan (TV3 and Canal 33) and Madrid (Telemadrid) systems within FORTA. Figures for municipal and local television stations (there are over 100 in Catalonia alone) are not represented, as they are as yet insignificant on the national register.

TVE-1, Telecinco, and Antena-3 attract over 70% of the advertising investments made in commercial television in Spain. Antena-3 rose to the top of the ratings in 1994, an advance that translated into a 65% increase in its advertising revenues over figures for 1992. TVE's subsidy has not helped it overcome the growing debt of the company, despite its stable position in the market. In contrast, the private firms have been profitable. One reason for this is the presence of foreign and finance capital in their ownership structure, which support the firms with larger film and video libraries and easier access to foreign currencies. This support became increasingly important following the inflationary spiral that was initiated when European financial markets destabilized in June 1992--by the end of 1994, the value of the peseta had fallen about 30% against the values of the dollar and the deutsche mark, and the trend continued into 1995.

Telecinco is owned by Silvio Berlusconi (25%), the Leo Kirch Group of Munich (25%), Radiotelevision Luxembourg (19%), the French investor Jacques Hachuel (10%), the Bank of Luxembourg (8%), and Spanish investors, who hold the remainder. The ownership of Antena-3 TV is more complicated with Grupo Zeta and Renvir holding 25% each, the bank Banesto with 10%, the French company, Bouygues, with 15%, and Invacor and Corpoban sharing 25%. The Spanish investor, Antonio Asensio, controls nearly 70% of Grupo Zeta, while the banks which helped him finance this control, Banco Central Hispano and Banesto, hold about 12.5% each. Banesto's media holdings were being divested in 1995 after its president was arrested and charged with fraud and illegal trading. The British conglomerate Cable and Wireless is also a major shareholder of Bouygues Telecom. Antonio Asensio also has indirect holdings of Antena-3 through his investment shell companies Renvir, Corpoban, and Invacor. Canal+ has remained stable since its founding: 25% belongs to the Spanish media conglomerate, PRISA, 25% to Canal Plus France, with about 42% divided among Spanish banks. PRISA owns the largest daily newspaper in Spain, El Pais, as well as a leading popular commercial radio station. PRISA also has holdings in Britain (The Independent), Portugal, France, Germany (with Bertelsmann in the German pay-TV service, Premiere), and Mexico (La Prensa).

In anticipation of the enactment of a 1995 cable regulation, foreign and national firms are forming large consortia. Among the national firms positioning themselves for the future cable market are the leading banks, the largest electrical power companies, the national phone company, the national network Retevision, construction firms, regional press groups, the regional governments, and the private TV operators. Among foreign investors are Time Warner, US West, Sprint, TCI, Bell Atlantic, Cable and Wireless, and the various investors active in the commercial television market. Notable aspects of the draft legislation include municipal control over the demarcation of markets within cities, protection of intellectual property rights, and the stipulation that operators must carry and pay for the terrestrial output of all national and regional channels.

Audiovisual production from the U.S. accounts for practically all the imported programs on the public and private networks. Estimates for 1993 are that one out of every five programs on TVE-I, TVE-2, and Telemadrid is from the United States, the rest are Spanish. For Telecinco and Antena-3, two out of every five programs are from the United States, the rest are Spanish. These ratios show an improvement over 1990 figures when imports took up 40% of the program schedule on TVE-1, 33% on Andalusia's Canal Sur, 34% on Catalonia's TV-3, 35% on Galicia's TVG, and 39% on the Basque ETB-1. In 1990, Telemadrid showed twice as many U.S. programs as it did Spanish ones, while a ratio of one to one could be seen on Valencia's Canal 9, the Basque ETB-2, and the two private channels.

Language is a key characteristic of the Spanish TV culture. The regional firms in the Basque Country, Galicia, Catalonia, and Valencia were founded with the objective of fomenting the language and culture in the regions. In Galicia, 99% of the people understand Gallego, but only 14% actually prefer to watch TV in Gallego. Estimates are that 95% of the people in Catalonia understand Catalan, though only a third of the Catalans watch programs exclusively in the idiom. Up to 90% of the people in Valencia understand Valenciano, a linguistic cousin of Catalan, but 12% like TV only in Valenciano. In the Basque County, as many as half of the people claim to understand Euskera, but only one-fifth of the Basques show strong preferences for their TV in Euskera. These figures are dwarfed by the scale of the national population, where practically 100% of the people understand Spanish. Despite the linguistic, territorial, and financial limitations affecting the regional networks, they manage to retain a stable audience of viewers because of the political and cultural history of centralism in Spanish communication. Both for the managers and audiences of these systems, the presence of the local idiom alongside Spanish recalls the multilingual identity of the regions and helps sustain a sense of place as Spain positions itself within the European Union and opens its borders to globalized audiovisual production.

-Richard Maxwell


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