Catalan Rebellion Coverage Lifts Ratings for Spain's Atresmedia

(Bloomberg) -- A long-term investment in political news has paid off for Spanish broadcaster Atresmedia, which has seen soaring ratings for its dedicated coverage of the Catalonian standoff while rivals struggle to attract viewers.

La Sexta, one of six channels owned by Spain’s second-largest television broadcaster, is heading for its best month ever after diving headlong into the crisis with live street coverage and televised debates, reporting on every twist and turn of the turmoil from Barcelona to Madrid. Ratings have regularly reached all-time highs in the past month, to the detriment of Mediaset Espana Comunicacion SA’s La Cuatro.

“We’ve seen growth at Le Sexta since September, which has been quite good,” said Eduardo Garcia Arguelles, an analyst at Beka Finance SA who covers both Mediaset Espana and Atresmedia. “We have to see if this carries on to advertising.”

The roots of La Sexta’s recent success date back several years, after the broadcaster was merged with Atresmedia in 2012. The channel often suspends regular programming to cover breaking political news, and it’s lined up prominent anchors like Antonio Garcia Ferraras and Ana Pastor, who can take over for a month at a time. In the current crisis, La Sexta has played up the tension with dispatches from the scene of the action, combined with a parade of academics, politicians and and analysts in its studios.

In the prime-time evening show on Saturday, Sept. 28, two economists defended pro- and anti-independence positions, respectively, as a group of journalists and analysts lobbed questions at them. Meanwhile, one of Mediaset’s main channels was broadcasting a film while the other was airing an entertainment show in which celebrities are interviewed.

Atresmedia’s main channel, Antena 3, has also seen audience spikes after taking a cue from its sister channel. The focus on politics resulted in a rare win for its noon news program over Mediaset Espana’s Telecinco, while its morning magazine beat Telecinco’s for the first time ever.

Overall, Atresmedia is on track to end October ahead of Mediaset Espana in ratings for the first time in three years. Whether the company can sustain its gains remains to be seen.

The company is forecast to report a 4 percent revenue gain to 291.5 million euros ($339 million) in fourth-quarter revenue, based on the average of analysts’ estimates tracked by Bloomberg. That would follow a 20 percent year-over-year increase in the third quarter.

“The key for broadcasters is to get sufficient critical mass to compete in a big group,” Garcia Agruelles said. La Sexta, which is aimed at a younger group, “is very complementary with Antena 3.”

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