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Discovery goes local in Latin America

Original production has increased by 30% over 2004

MIAMI Think global, act local.

That maxim might well apply to Discovery’s Latin American channels, where execs are adding more local productions, particularly series it hopes will foster appointment viewing.

Original production has increased by 30% over 2004 this year, says Michaela Giorelli, director of production and development for six channels at Discovery Networks Latin America/Iberia.

The group also launched three digital nets this year, but their line-ups are drawn from sister Discovery channels.

With eight shows launching this quarter and eight new series in the pipeline, the group expects an even bigger jump in 2006.

Discovery Latin America is also actively soliciting proposals from independent producers around the region for its nets — and potentially to share worldwide.

“We’re trying to develop ideas with regional producers to make shows for our region,” says Peter Weil, the former SVP and general manager for Animal Planet Intl. who was tapped six months ago as acting head of content for Discovery Latin America/Iberia and promoted to SVP of content services for the region on Oct. 5. “In addition, we’re brainstorming ideas that could play elsewhere.”

Giorelli and three in-house producers oversee commissioned productions from regional headquarters in Miami.

They — like many others in the region — depend heavily on Argentina, with its independent shingles and competitive pricing. But Giorelli is seeking talent and compelling storytelling wherever she can find it.

“We are working with more companies with experience in commercials that are interested in moving into longer formats,” she says. “We’re taking a little bit of a risk.”

Among the first new shows this month will be regional adaptations for the People + Arts channel of the hit home decorating series “While You Were Out” and reality show “Wife Swap,” for which Discovery has tapped Buenos Aires-based Promofilm, which has a reality track record.

Episodes for both will be filmed in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.

“While You Were Out” will feature Brazilian thesp Lucila Santos and Mexican rocker Natalia Lafourcade in two episodes redecorating for a sister and a friend, respectively.

While young people line up for the chance to participate in “Big Brother” or “Pop Idol”-type shows, casting “Wife Swap” in tradition-bound territories has been more complicated.

“Men in Mexico are very conservative about letting their wives leave for a week,” acknowledges Giorelli.

Discovery Channel, ranked No. 9 in all-day pan-regional ratings among cable homes (satellite subs not counted) by ratings agency Ibope in August, already airs 20% locally produced content.

The week of Oct. 24, the net will bow the first episode of “Aeropuerto DF,” a six-part fly-on-the-wall documentary about passengers, crews, airline workers, officials and vendors in the Mexico City airport. U.S. outfit, Tomlinson Prods., is producing.

Also this month “Factor desconcido” (Unknown Factor), six hour-long episodes from Chile’s Nueva Imagen, will explore paranormal phenomena for the group’s flagship net.

Argentina’s first family of auto racing, the DiPalma clan, will be the subject of “DiPalma,” a series of eight 30-minute episodes. Series, from Argentina’s Tamden Prods., preems in November for DC’s Speed Week.

For Travel & Living, which launched last December, Discovery has tapped Argentina’s Cuatro Cabezas for two series.

“Ciudades y copas,” (Cities and Drinks) hosted by Argentine thesp and TV host Laura Azcurra, is devoted to bars, nightclubs, cafes, restaurants and late-night hot spots in major Latin American cities. Series bows in November and Discovery has already upped its commitment to 26 episodes.

“Casas” (Houses) explores homes and estates in Argentina, Brazil and Chile of architectural and historic interest. The 13-episode series launches in December.

In Brazil, where pay TV tax regulations were crafted to promote local productions by foreign-owned channels, Discovery has partnered with local publishing giant Abril and Rex Films to create femme-oriented news mag “Elas” (They). It will bow in November on feevee Home & Health that launched in March.

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