Formats make inroads into traditional enclaves of Latino sudsers

Now that the telenovela is well entrenched in the global market, some Latin American webs and production companies are looking to boost overall sales with other formats.

Spearheaded by Argentine producers, a growing number of formats have been making inroads into traditional enclaves of the Latino sudsers.

Latin American producers have been selling and co-producing formats of their sitcoms, reality shows and miniseries as well as song and dance competitions within and outside of Latin America. These adaptations and productions can generate five to 10 times more revenue than programs that are simply dubbed or replayed.

Consider some recent developments:

  • The Czech Republic’s Dramedy Prods. optioned fly-on-the-wall docu hospital series “E24″ from Argentine indie Cuatro Cabezas. Skein already has been licensed and aired in Chile, Italy and Spain. Cuatro Cabezas produced skein for broadcaster Telecinco in Spain and UCTV in Chile, while FremantleMedia produced it for RAI3 and Fox Life in Italy.

  • “Los Roldan,” a rags-to-riches comedy from top Argentine broadcaster Telefe, has been remade in Mexico and Colombia, and localized versions are in development in France, Italy and Russia. Telefeis in remake talks with TV companies in Chile, Spain and the U.S.

  • Mexico’s media giant Televisa has seen its competish show “Bailando por un sueno” (Dancing for a Dream) reap unprecedented ratings in a Colombian version. Colombia broadcaster RCN’s version debuted to 62% shares in late January. This March, local versions bowed in Argentina and Romania; in May one will preem in El Salvador. Other deals are closing.

  • L.A.-based MarVista Entertainment is developing a tween-targeted (8-12 years) reality cooking show, “Surprise! It’s Edible! Incredible!” with Argentina’s Snapshot, run by Ariel Tobi.

  • Colombia’s RCN TV is selling a new interactive show called “Los ojos de mi calle” (which can be loosely translated as “Street Eyes”) in which viewers participate via calls or text messages to influence the outcome of stories presented to a studio audience.

In Argentina, where poor-rich romantic telenovelas have lost traction with the country’s more sophisticated auds, indie TV producers, led by Ideas del Sur, Pol-ka and Cuatro Cabezas, as well as leading webs, have been churning out edgier programs.

“We find we need to attract the men, too, not just housewives, as well as the middle- and upper-class households,” says Telefe Intl.’s head of formats and international production Gonzalo Cilley. “We are more influenced by U.S. dramas that delve deeper into its characters,” he adds.

Telefe Intl., Argentina’s biggest exporter, has also sold remake rights to its quirky action drama “Los simuladores” (The Pretenders) to Chile, Russia, Italy and Spain. Chile aired its version last year while local versions in Russia, Spain and Italy are still in development.

Telefe Intl. format sales have risen 30% a year since 2003. This year, it expects nearly half its revenue to come from format sales, compared with 5% in 2001.

“The boom in local production and market regulations, particularly in the EU, have boosted demand for our formats and scripts to our fiction (aka telenovela) programming,” says Televisa Estudios sales chief Carlos Castro. “This has allowed us to expand our programming on offer.”

Aside from novelas and “Bailando,” Televisa is debuting song competish “Cantando por un sueno” (Singing for a Dream), and gameshow “Suertudo” (Lucky) at the Mip market.

MarVista and Snapshot aim to develop more shows aimed at the underexploited tween market in Latin America, where some panregionals are desperately looking for youth product, says MarVista chief operating officer and managing director Fernando Szew. “Surprise! It’s Edible. Incredible!” has already been a ratings success on Canada’s CBC.

Aside from its staple sudsers, Brazil’s TV Globo will be selling miniseries led by local ratings hit “City of Men,” a spinoff of Fernando Meirelles’ Oscar-nommed feature “City of God.” Skein has been sold to more than 60 countries, including the U.S., where it debuts on the Sundance Channel this month. This year, TV Globo is selling European-style miniseries with just two to four 90-minute episodes.

“It’s important to consider that format sales are limited to countries with the capacity to develop and produce TV programs of reasonable quality. Otherwise, they can always rely on canned telenovelas, which continue to sell at a strong clip,” says Televisa’s Castro, who credits this genre for opening doors to other programming.

The global success of RCN Colombia’s telenovela “Yo soy Betty la fea,” which has been remade in Germany, India, Russia, Mexico, Holland and soon Spain and the U.S., has inspired Latin American producers to follow her route. ” ‘Betty” has certainly paved the way for all of us,” says Cilley.

But the ratings payoff is not quick. It can take two or more years for formats to get on the air. Rethreads require more money and more script rewrites . But the effort can, more often than not, lead to a primetime slot.

“In countries where the culture is alien to ours or which may have similar competing product, selling remake rights to our formats is the best way to grow our business,” says Venevision Intl. prexy Luis Villanueva.

In an unusual case, Telefe is co-producing an original Russian telenovela, “Tango del ultimo amor,” to air on state-run web Rossiya. The 130-episode skein is being shot in Argentina with an all-Argentine crew. The only Russians involved are five actors and one artistic director. According to Cilley, they opted to shoot everything in Argentina not because it was cheaper but because they could speed up the process at the rate of one episode a day.

“Telenovelas are always the big moneymakers, but other shows can certainly generate more revenue,” says Jose Escalante, vice president and general manager of RCTV Intl.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more