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RTVE's multipolar crisis

Headquarters of the TVE news in Torrespaña. SANTI BURGOS

Public television goes through a crucial moment for his own survival. The most visible aspect of the fragile situation in which it finds itself is the collapse of the audience, which weighs heavily on the public entity, and its financial difficulties. Last year, the set of five TVE channels achieved a 15.4% screen share, far behind the private groups Mediaset (28.4%) and Atresmedia (26.3%). In addition to an accelerated loss of viewers, the corporation has experienced a persistent reduction in financial resources which, in turn, has had a direct impact on the quality of the offer. For next year no improvement is in sight. RTVE will have 1,101 million euros, compared to 1,127 this year, according to sources from the corporation. It is a figure that is far from the optimal budget, located at 1,200 million, and deepens the delicate position of the entity in the audiovisual ecosystem.

Within the large income items, the State's compensation for the provision of the public service will be 443 million euros, which is 6.3% less compared to the current year (473 million), since the extra amount that was awarded for coverage of the Tokyo Olympics held this summer. The rest will come from the collection of the radioelectric rate (410 million) and from the contributions of private television channels and telecommunications operators, which add up to around 188 million.

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Although in principle the Government intended to abolish this rate at telecos and replace it with a new tax applied to Internet platforms (Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime, Apple TV + Disney +), the numbers do not come out. For this item, RTVE sources estimate that they would receive about eight million euros, while the telecommunications companies (Movistar, Orange, Vodafone) will contribute about 125 million. This imbalance has led the Executive to maintain the current financing system until 2023 and thus avoid the economic asphyxia of public television, which would need new sources of income, such as limited access to the advertising market.

Bureaucratic stagnation

The flight of spectators and financial problems contribute to RTVE finding itself in “a critical multipolar situation”, as José Manuel Pérez Tornero warned in the management project presented to Congress for election as president. His diagnosis does not leave much room for optimism. He is blunt about the delicate health of the group – which turned 65 in October – and urges to act urgently to correct the course. Otherwise, “RTVE may soon find itself on the brink of collapse.” Among the ills that afflict the corporation, it warns of the cut in funding, the loss of audience, the resounding change in the behavior of the spectators, the credibility crisis and a certain bureaucratic stagnation in its management model. “If you act with parsimony, if inertia overcomes the need to change or if real challenges are ignored,” the situation “can be fatal at RTVE,” he explains.

Comparing the health of European public entities, Spain is among those who are “seriously injured”. From a financial point of view, the corporation is back in the red. At the end of this year the debt forecast reaches 325 million, a figure that in the next year will rise to 588. Throughout history, RTVE has resorted to borrowing to balance its accounts in a spiral that reached almost 8,000 millions. The Government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero wanted to end this arrangement and the State set the counter to zero and radically changed the model by eliminating advertising on TVE. With the arrival of the PP, in 2012 the cuts impacted the full on television, which has not yet recovered from the heavy ax blow.

Imanol Arias and Ana Duato, in 'Tell me how it happened. RTVE

Change of habits

Now, one of the TVE's main challenges is to raise the audience and, above all, to overcome the debacle of the news programs, considered its backbone. Not counting the simultaneous broadcast on the 24 Hours channel, the news programs closed last year in third position with 12% of the audience, behind Antena 3 (16.6%) and Telecinco (15.2%), according to data from the consulting firm Barlovento Comunicación. But far from improving, the situation has worsened. In recent months, the desktop edition has fallen to fourth place, behind the La Sexta newscast. Although they have shed the sectarianism of other times and have gained in plurality and innovation, an erratic programming strategy, with constant changes in the strip that precedes the newscast, has had a very negative impact. To try to reverse this effect, last week TVE recovered the daily broadcast of Corazón, an old pink chronicle format with 25 years behind it. A patch whose effect is yet to be seen. What does not seem to leave room for doubt is that the swings in the grid damage the loyalty of the spectators. TVE audiences barely have a handful of reference programs: the fiction series Tell me how it happened , which has been on the air for two decades, or the entertainment space MasterChef, with more than 20 editions on the air in its different versions. Both have withstood the test of time and have become the most successful and outstanding spaces.

Along with this slow but constant drop in audience has produced a change in consumer habits, especially of young audiences, who have turned their backs on linear television to embrace delayed broadcasts. The 18 to 24-year-old group spent an average of 180 minutes a day watching audiovisual content in October, of which 64 minutes were hooked to YouTube. On the contrary, those over 55 played the famous video platform for just 15 minutes of the 363 they invested in watching audiovisual content, according to data from Kantar and Comscore.

Another key aspect for the future of RTVE is to overcome the obsolescence of the management model. According to Pérez Tornero, “bureaucratic inertia, political follow-up and the lack of reflexes in the management system seem to have installed a culture in RTVE that is not very conducive to change and that, without a doubt, does not contribute to overcoming the present difficulties.” Its commitment involves concrete measures, such as creating a digital platform for education, turning La 2 into a channel for cultural and scientific dissemination, launching a cooperation program with universities, creating a pilot center for the production of documentaries and fiction series , promote transmedia programming and promote 24 Hours as an Ibero-American news channel.

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