Feature: Spanish game show phenomenon

By MIREN GUTIERREZ, UPI Business Correspondent  |  April 5, 2002 at 9:57 AM
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SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain, April 5 (UPI) -- In the beginning, no television executive saw any future in "Operación Triunfo" (Operation Success). But its promoters proved everybody else wrong.

Viewers all around Spain went nuts about the reality show, and the formula -- a music academy cum "Big Brother," without the sex -- racked up $90 million in revenue, broke audience records and became an economic phenomenon that has crossed frontiers.

Now around 80,000 applicants between 18 and 27 years of age are queuing up, hoping to be one of the 16 chosen contestants for "Operation Success" second edition, which will begin next autumn. The selection process will take place in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Oviedo, the Baleares and the Canaries.

"Operation Success" took the reality show genre upscale with its fusion of hard work values, and absence of sex or violence. Located in an industrial park near Barcelona, a total of 33 TV cameras would capture the contestants' every move as they learned to sing and dance for a weekly performance, and strived to turn into stars. "We're working on a career here," says Rosa López -- a 21-year-old high-school dropout who used to sing at weddings.

López, one of the finalists, has become a national icon thanks to the show. She was the favorite of the public, who spent money on phone calls and cell phone messages to vote for her during the show. She was the winner, and will now represent Spain in the Eurovision Song Contest in Estonia on May 5.

But she is not the only fortunate one. The show has been a triumph for the 16 original contestants, who have signed recording contracts, selling a combined 3 million albums. It has been hard work. They were selected from about 5,000 applicants, and kept in the academy until Christmas, when they were released for one day and a half. Nina Agusti, the academy's director, and her team of voice and dance trainers are now celebrated celebrity-makers.

The show is produced by Barcelona-based Gestmusic, owned partially (60 percent) by Dutch-based Endemol, member since 2000 of the Telefónica group and creator of "Big Brother." The rest of the company (40 percent) is in Tony Cruz and Josep María Mainat's hands, two well-known entertainers.

Gestmusic expects that each of the 16 contestants -- all of whom still appear regularly on the show -- will earn a minimum of about $200,000 from their appearances and recording deals. On April 5, the 16 participants begin a tour all around Spain, with 22 concerts programmed.

According to Juan Palomino, of General Society of Authors and Publishers, the sale of the "Operation Success" double CD in December last year -- around 1 million albums -- saved the day in the music sector, which in 2001 was suffering a decrease of 8 percent in retail sales in comparison with the year before.

Now the fall is estimated by the SGAE at around 2 percent. In Spain, the most popular songs amassed $568 million last year. Of course, those intoned by the "Operation Success" team were in the first places.

But TVE -- which has its own recording company -- will not profit from it, because early on, public television relinquished its musical rights in exchange for a discount from Gestmusic-Endemol. The Catalan firm Vale Music has the rights.

The program will soon be exported, as its promoters have signed contracts with stations in seven countries -- Portugal, the Netherlands, Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, Colombia and Russia. And negotiations are under way with many others; 50 stations around the world have showed interest in the rights.

In some cases, more than one station in a country is vying for the rights. The public Portuguese television, RTP, bought TV rights to show in February "Operation Success" in Spanish with subtitles, in order to outstrip the private channel, TVI, which started in March with "Academia de Estrelas," with a similar formula bought to Endemol.

In September, RTP will offer the Portuguese version of the show too, in which the national representative for Eurovision 2003 will be chosen.

The success of "Operation Success" has generated a ratings war on television in Spain. The show has overshadowed soccer games and presidential speeches, while private television channels, such as Antena 3 or Tele 5 displayed poor results. At some point, the show monopolized more 50 percent of the audience.

According to experts, the feat of "Operation Success," shown on public television, TVE, has meant a disaster for its private rivals, which have been forced to rearrange their programs in order to avoid competing directly with the show, something looked upon as suicidal. Antena 3 executives must be especially dismayed, as they were among the first to whom the Gestmusic-Endemol project was offered.

The autonomic channels -- private or public television channels that operate in the autonomic regions -- are also working on shows that they hope can compete with "Operation Success."

The last-minute program reschedulings were also followed by a complaint before the Science and Technology Minister presented by the Spanish Consumers Union against TVE, Tele 5 and Antena 3. The law forbids changing already announced TV programs, as contents must be published 11 days in advance.

Topics: Tony Cruz
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