ONDA Digital is a broadcaster that wants to do things differently. And in doing so it is likely to bring a sigh of relief to film sellers who have recently seen prices plateau.
But, as the operator of only the second digital terrestrial television network in Europe after the UK's ONdigital, ONDA first of all has to explain the different set of rules it operates under. It then has to go head-to-head with two well-capitalised and aggressive satellite platforms; Telefonica's Via Digital and Canal Plus' CanalSatellite Digital (CSD).
Awarded its nation-wide licences just last June, ONDA now aims to be on air within the second quarter of 2000. It expects to start life with no less than 14 channels, perhaps more if it picks up any further regional franchises. In a country with just five national channels, it has the daunting task of coming up with maybe a dozen unfamiliar channel brands.
"We need to have a very competitive offering," said Ildefonso de Miguel, ONDA's director general. "These will be a selection of first run channels with a mixture of kids, sport, movies and PPV. We are currently talking to the majors and to European companies about supplying us the very best quality."
De Miguel admits that it is unlikely that all 14 channels will be own-brand efforts simply buying programming on the open market. Rather several will be bought in channels or Spanish revamps of established international channels. And to feed them he will have to go to the same sources as his two - or three if Canal Plus Spain is considered a separate entity - pay-TV competitors.
"We need to establish new kinds of relations with the studios; different deal terms, different revenue shares. These are the things we will be talking about during NATPE," says Gino Natalicchio, ONDA head of programming, content and interactive services. "We have to explain how good a distribution network we have and what a user-friendly system we have. It is very easy, almost plug-and-play and we have proven conditional access technology. We have a faster growing capability than anyone else. And they won't have to wait for three years until we have one million customers."
"Suppliers have been very receptive to what we have been telling them as we will solve the bottleneck in a growing market in which cable does not exist and satellite is difficult and expensive," says Natalicchio. He suggests that local and foreign suppliers have been disappointed by the slow pace of growth of Spain's digital subscribers. Others would disagree: Via Digital this week announced a 30% rise in the last six months, bringing its total to 450,000, compared with CSD's 825,000.
De Miguel says that ONDA's launch will also hasten other changes to the Spanish TV market. "The Warner-AOL deal was about matching content with delivery. Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) is the answer as to how to replicate that in Spain. Free-to-air will remain very important if DTT can maintain its leadership. And we will be able to offer one-stop-shopping of pay-TV and free-TV."
De Miguel and Natalicchio foresee few problems concerning broadcast windows. "It should be possible to stretch some windows and fill in others," says Natalicchio, who anticipates that three to five of the new channels will be pay-per-view. "There will be some overlap with the films that are screening on Canal or Via's PPV services, but we may also go for some exclusive deals."
And if that were not enough to make content owners think twice before renewing their existing arrangements with CSD or Via, ONDA points to almost limitless demand in the future. Once conventional analogue terrestrial TV is switched off in about 2010, the number of multiplexes increases and possible channels spiral to over 250. While some of those will be reserved for its terrestrial rivals, ONDA would be expected to win several more frequencies - and it is hoping to win still more at a regional level.