Spain to cut back ads on public TV

From David del Valle in Madrid

Following the example of France, the Spanish Government has announced that it will drastically limit advertising on public television (which could even result in its complete elimination) as part of a wide-ranging new audiovisual law.

The measure would directly affect national broadcaster RTVE – which operates La Primera and La 2- using a mixed-financing model based on ad revenues and state subsidies. Ad revenues represented E557 million last year for RTVE, with E500 million in state subsidies. For this year, RTVE plans to collect E478 million in ad revenues. Including state-owned Regional channels, public TV in Spain took one third of the total E3 billion advertising TV pie in 2008.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero did not reveal how much he planned to cut advertising minutage on RTVE, but some sources point to three minutes per hour against the current 10 minutes or even the complete elimination of advertising. “We will approve and send to parliament a new audio-visual law and a drastic reduction in advertising on public television,” he told parliamentarians.

Private broadcasters, represented by the Association UTECA, welcomed the announcement, urging the Government to implement the measure as soon as possible and lobbying for a complete elimination of ad time on public TV. “This year, at the very least, advertising during primetime on the public channels should be eliminated, while, in the span of 12 to 13 months, advertising should disappear from the pubcaster entirely,” UTECA secretary general Jorge Del Corral said.

The initiative will be included in the upcoming Spanish Audiovisual Law, but must still be approved by the Spanish parliament.

Spain’s main free-to-air broadcasters have been hit particularly hard by the economic downturn and by increased competition as digital terrestrial TV takes off. Earlier this year, the country’s national association of advertisers called upon the government to limit ad minutes, claiming that saturation advertising was diluting its effectiveness. In 2008, the EC warned Spain that it faced court action for failing to comply with specified advertising limits.

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