Telefonica invests $100 mil in co-prod'ns as Rios ankles

MADRID — Powerhouse telco Telefonica Media dropped two bombs Wednesday, announcing a stunning $100 million investment in 20 to 30 Spanish co-productions during the current year and also revealing the resignation of the company’s high-profile prexy.

The investment move is the biggest single financial injection ever in Spanish and Latin American filmmaking.

The resignation of Jose Antonio Rios as president of Telefonica Media is one of the most surprising exits in recent Spanish media history. A highly regarded TV exec who has turned TM into a serious Euro player in just one year, Rios will be replaced by Manuel Garcia-Duran.

Rios’ substitution by Garcia-Duran has left industryites baffled. Over the last few weeks tensions have grown between Telefonica and its film and TV subsid Telefonica Media.

It was Telefonica, not Telefonica Media, that announced Bertelsmann will take 10% in TM-controlled broadcaster Antena 3, a move yet to happen.

Lukewarm response

Rios was said to have been less than enthusiastic about TM taking 28% in niche-channel packager Media Park, a move that made more political than economic sense.

Rumors have also grown that Antena 3 managing director Juan Jose Nieto would be leaving his post. The Antena 3 station is partially owned by Telefonica.

Garcia-Duran is an intimate friend of Telefonica prexy Juan Villalonga, and his appointment could mark a desire by Villalonga to control Telefonica’s film and TV expansion more directly.

Other pundits suggest that Garcia-Duran’s appointment is inspired by Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, who is concerned that Antena 3 is becoming an opposition-affiliated broadcaster.

A top Telefonica exec responsible for publicity and communications, Garcia-Duran has some media experience as an exec at record labels CBS-Sony and EMI-Hispavox.

Few execs in the Spanish-speaking world can boast Rios’ prestige, contacts and knowledge of Latin American TV. His loss to Telefonica Media looks huge.

Unveiling TM’s role as the sponsor of the first Ibero-American Forum of Co-Productions, which takes place Tuesday through Thursday, TM director of programming content Alberto Ennis stunned Spanish producers Wednesday when he said that TM aimed to take equity positions in many of the co-productions presented at the Forum.

Projects offered at the Ibero-American Forum will all be structured as co-productions between Spain, Portugal and Latin America.

TM also would seek to take distribution rights where it owned media outlets — principally Spain and Argentina.

The war chest this year at TM for financing the projects is “more than $100 million,” Ennis declared.

TM’s investment should mark a watershed in the history of Latin American cinema, allowing its top directors to work at unprecedented budget levels.

Pics that could receive TM financing include Fernando Solanas’ “Afrodita,” an adaptation of Isabel Allende’s bestseller “Jacobina,” a pic from Fabio Barreto and Adolfo Aristarain’s “Pasado Perfecto.”

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