Indies meet rising prod’n demand

Producers go on their own in Argentina

BUENOS AIRES — With domestic demand on the rise for local fiction and exports booming, a new wave of independent production companies and projects is hitting Argentina.

Sebastian Ortega, behind hits like poor-turned-rich comedy “Los Roldans” (The Roldans), is going out on his own after 3½ years as artistic director — the No. 2 spot — at Ideas del Sur, the indie run by seasoned host-impresario Marcelo Tinelli.

Already, Daniel Hadad’s Canal 9 has signed Ortega for 18 hours a week, much for primetime. His yet-unnamed shop is at work on a prison drama directed by Adrian Caetano, known for feature films like “A Red Bear” as well as a wrestling-fanatics comedy and a fiction about Buenos Aires thirtysomethings that’s in the vein of “Queer as Folk.”

“Fiction is the only format that hasn’t gone out of style over the past decade,” he says.

Indie shops became a major source of hit comedies and dramas in Argentina after broadcasters started cutting costs by outsourcing in the 1990s. With cable penetration reaching its current 50-60% then, there was further impetus for original, homespun fare to compete. More shops opened after the 2001-02 economic crisis and currency slump, looking to export with a newfound competitive advantage of low production costs. Exports more than doubled to 40,000 hours in 2004 from 2002.

Among those opening shops: thesps Gaston Pauls (“Enlightened by Fire”) and Dolores Fonzi (“The Dawn”) and host Nicolas Repetto.

Is there room for all outfits on four private nets and a state broadcaster?

Telefe, owned by Spain’s Telefonica, is a big inhouse producer, with its successful retreads of “Married … With Children” and “Who’s the Boss?” helping keep it as ratings leader. Grupo Clarin’s Artear-Canal 13, the second-ranked, has two large associate shops, Ideas del Sur and Pol-ka.

But Telefe is known for tapping up-and-coming talent, and the lower-ranked America TV and Canal 9 are expected to step up purchases from small and new indies to win viewers with fresh alternatives, says Valeria Beola, a media planner at Universal McCann Argentina, a media-buying agency.

And with ad spending on the rise as the economy grows at 7%-9% a year, broadcasters are starting to emulate a U.S. model of weekly series in primetime, not the dailies that have dominated over the past three years.

Diego Guebel, a director of indie shop Cuatro Cabezas, expects such a schedule in two to three years, which will generate more work for producers. Main reason for the shift: weekly series reduce risk. If a primetime telenovela flops, five hours must be rescheduled. A lackluster weekly drama could be replaced with little impact.

This schedule, too, would cater to viewers’ growing demand for more options. They don’t want to be tied to a daily story, they want to chose a night to watch their favorite, Guebel says.

“There is room for more independent production as long as there are new proposals, different stories,” Ortega says. “Audiences always respond to good stories and production.”

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