Two major new players were unleashed on the Spanish media scene Friday with the government concession of two nationwide, free-to-air digital terrestrial television (DTT) licences.

The winners of the new licences were consortia Veo TV, spearheaded by publishing entities Recoletos and Unedisa (home of national newspaper El Mundo), and Net TV, led by publisher Prensa Espanola (ABC newspaper), TV and film producers Grupo Arbol/Globomedia, Telson/Cartel and Europroducciones, and international TV partners from France (TFI) and Portugal (SIC).

Some criticised the concessions, accusing the government of playing favouritism to two conservative groups linked to the centre-right ruling party. One of the losing consortia, comprised mostly of Catalan firms, warned of a shutting-out of Catalan interests in the national media map.

The entry of the new DTT platforms will radically alter the Spanish television market, which is currently comprised of two private free-to-air broadcasters (Antena 3, Telecinco), two national public free-to-air channels (Television Espanola), a handful of regional networks, and four private pay platforms (Canal Plus, Canal Satelite Digital, Via Digital, Quiero).

The new DTT channels are expected to begin broadcasts by the summer of 2001. The government has left open the possibility of awarding further DTT licences in the near future.

Among Friday's losing bidders were: Horizonte Digital, the largely Catalan consortium led by Grupo Godo (publisher of La Vanguardia newspaper) and Swedish firm Centrum Elektronisk, with a reduced participation by Media Park and the backers of the Planeta publishing and audiovisual group, Corporacion Accionarial Lara; Cope, led by the Church-backed Radio Popular Cope; and Telecomunicaciones Comver, backed by the Swedish broadcasting group SBS.