When Spain's government announced a few months ago that it was relaxing the rules on concentration of ownership for television channels it didn't take long for speculation to start on who was behind the move. The country has gained two new private channels in the last few years, Cuatro and La Sexta, but with the onset of the economic crisis it seems that there wasn't enough money from advertising to sustain so many channels and mergers have come to be seen as the solution. So last week we got the announcement that Cuatro and Telecinco were to become part of the same company in a complicated deal between Grupo Prisa and Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset. This deal effectively brings to an end Prisa's involvement in open access television and also dilutes their ownership of the pay channel Digital+. The company has been looking for ways to deal with its debts and this agreement makes up for them not being able to find a buyer for Digital+. The irony comes from them dealing with Silvio Berlusconi, following the publication by El País a few months ago of photographs from Berlusconi's Sardinian villa which meant that the Prisa paper wasn't exactly top of Silvio's favourite publications.
This is not likely to be the end of the changes, there are also strong rumours that a deal will be reached to merge La Sexta with Antena 3. La Sexta is the newest of Spain's channels, and marked the entry into the television market of Mediapro who seem to have replaced Prisa in the government's affections. Mediapro's influence was crucial in paving the way for the introduction of pay channels on the digital TDT platform, they already had their Gol channel dedicated to football ready to go as soon as the legislation was in place. Incidentally, I'm toying with the idea of an equivalent to the "I Sky" feature in Britain's Private Eye that recorded attempts to hide publicity for Sky TV in pseudo news items in the Murdoch press. Both Público (owned by Mediapro) and El País have been doing much the same in a bid to promote their offerings, particularly for pay to view football.
The merging of the private channels isn't the only change we will see, the state run RTVE is to stop taking advertising on its two channels, another part of the attempt to maximise revenues for the private channels. The loss of revenue for RTVE will largely be made up with a levy on the private channels and with contributions from the telecommunications companies. RTVE is also said to be moving away from attempts to compete for ratings with a remit that is more oriented towards domestic TV productions and films.