BUENOS AIRES — Argentina has gone global with the format sales of its edgier telenovelas, tapping demand for a product that has a longer shelf-life for spinoff businesses than a Hollywood film.
“A telenovela can generate sales of clothes, CDs and magazines all year,” says Silvana D’Angelo, head of international sales and marketing at the Argentine distribution unit of Israel-based Dori Media Group.
This potential plus fresh stories that reach a wide range of viewers — not just housewives, as was once the tradition — and quality productions is driving a surge in sales of Argentine telenovelas of the past three years.
These skeins are being remade for primetime slots in Brazil, France, India, Mexico, Russia and the U.S.
“Lalola” is the latest example.
At its first presentation of the comedy about a womanizer stuck in a woman’s body, DMG sold remake rights to four territories.
Networks in Portugal and Russia are adapting five Argentinean formats, from “Lalola” on Russia’s CTC to private-school drama “Rebelde Way” (The Rebels) on Portugal’s SIC.
French viewers will soon see local versions of “Lalola” and teen hit “Patito feo” (Ugly Duckling). Revenge drama “Montecristo” is being remade in Portugal and Spain.
Global trends are helping. With the expansion of cable, programmers are putting more emphasis on local productions in primetime, giving rise to production outfits to meet this demand.
“This opens the door for format sales” in territories that before only bought tapes, says D’Angelo.
“Argentines have been breast-fed on our own telenovelas and this gives us a natural know-how with the making of them,” says Victor Gonzalez, a partner at RGB Entertainment, which with Cris Morena Group is behind wide-selling hits including “Floricienta” (Flinderella).
Argentina has an array of immigrant cultures, mostly European, and a 50% cable penetration since the 1980s has made viewers demanding. “Lalola” creator Sebastian Ortega bombed last year with a wrestling comedy.
The network market “is very competitive so products have to be creative and new and take risks to attract audiences,” says Alejandro Parra, head of Telefe Intl., a leading exporter.
This is meeting what foreign markets want, “novelties and twists,” he says.
“Los Roldan” (The Roldans), for example, is a comedy starring a transvestite and “Amor en custodio” (Love’s Guard) is a traditional romance with action.
The growth of the business is bringing challenges and transformations.
Morena and RGB are developing sitcom telenovelas. Their music-school comedy “B&B” and odd-couple comedy “Amor mio” (Loony Love) have “the concept of a sitcom and the plotline of a telenovela,” says Gonzalez.
With each episode leading to another, this maintains intrigue and builds “a faithful and stable audience” ideal for rolling out such additional revenue streams as CDs and legit productions, he says.
And the small sitcom cast keeps down costs and means production can easily be transported, for instance, to Buenos Aires, where it is cheaper to produce than in Europe and the U.S.
DMG has sold the “Lalola” format to half a dozen territories in Europe alone and each buyer wants to distribute their versions to recoup investment. As a result, DMG is putting conditions in contracts so it can avert overlaps that may hurt the distribution potential of each adaptation and its ancillary businesses.
Of course, this opens opportunities for further distribution as a Russian version could fly better in Eastern Europe, an Asian in Asia or an American one globally, D’Angelo says.
Telefe Intl. is taking on the tape and format sales of remakes of its productions. A latest deal is for Fox’s “Watch Over Me,” a 64-hour adaptation of Telefe’s suspense telenovela “Resistire.”
While sales traditionally have either been tape or format, clients in France and Russia are buying both, slotting the original in the daytime as a promotional vehicle for a future remake in primetime, says D’Angelo.
Meanwhile, competition is rising.
“The telenovela has crossed over the limits of its native land: Latin America,” says Hugo Di Guglielmo, a consultant and former programming boss at Buenos Aires broadcaster Canal 13. “It is a natural progression” for buyers in export markets “to do their own.”
That may take time.
Russia and Romania have taken shots yet continue to import Argentinean formats, says D’Angelo.
Programmers “want definite results and there is nothing more certain than a proven format,” says Morena, whose telenovelas like “Casi Angeles” (Teen Angels) are gaining international attention for remaking.
Otherwise, European and other markets, which have more experience in weekly fictions, have to do it on their own and this raises the risk of a flop. “You have to know how to maintain interest in all the episodes (of a telenovela) and it is not easy,” says D’Angelo.
For companies selling to Latin America, the boom is opening up opportunities.
“Last year I was concerned about the new competition,” says Sheila Aguirre, FremantleMedia Enterprises VP of sales and development for Latin America and the U.S. Hispanic market. “But this year my format sales will have increased by 75%. Competition puts people on the lookout for better formats.”
Fremantle Media has sold remake rights for “Three’s a Company” to Chile and Ecuador, as well as non-fiction shows like “Family Feud” and “Stop the Clock” elsewhere.
Argentina is a big importer of formats like “Married … With Children” and “Desperate Housewives” and is remaking them for Latin America and the U.S. Hispanic market, something that Chile and Colombia hope to emulate.
This should boost exports even more.
Networks don’t just want good products, says Di Guglielmo. “They want exportable formats.”