Argentina’s TV exports are growing in Asia and Western Europe, not just emerging markets like Mexico and Russia.
They are edgier and more sophisticated than the competition coming out of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, proponents say.
Take “Montecristo.” A runaway success at home, the daily telenovela, based on Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 novel “The Count of Monte Cristo,” the story of a man falsely accused of treason delved into Argentina’s 1976-83 military dictatorship, when thousands of so-called dissidents went “missing” and their children stolen.
Skein led in the ratings in its primetime slot of 11 p.m. — and spurred queries by young adults if they were children of the “disappeared.”
“It is breaking national boundaries because it touches a universal theme, in this case identity,” says Claudio Villarruel, artistic and programming director of “Montecristo” producer-broadcaster Telefe. “All of us are in search of an identity.”
Mexico’s TV Azteca has adapted “Montecristo,” touching on drug trafficking and kidnapping; so, too, Chile’s Mega. Nets in Colombia and Portugal are developing versions, and Russia and Spain are considering picking it up as well.
“It is adapted to the idiosyncrasies of each market,” Villarruel notes.
“Sos mi vida” (You Are the One) is another telenovela selling well abroad. The skein, about a female boxing champion who adopts three homeless children, aired on Artear-Canal 13.
Telefe Intl., the sales division of Telefe, also has sold remake rights to its hit sitcom “Los Roldan” to countries in Asia, Europe and Latin America. Fox is remaking Telefe’s corruption-laden “Resistire” as “Watch Over Me,” and is said to be mulling drama “Rebelde Way” (The Rebels), produced by Cris Morena Group and RGB Entertainment.
Stiff competition is a major reason for the fresher material, says Alejandro Parra, head of Telefe Intl.
Argentinians are demanding. They have four networks and 65 cable channels with the latest “24,” “Lost” and “Queer as Folk” to choose from. Producers, programmers and writers must have “new ideas and proposals and business models” to compete, Parra says.
Telefe Intl. reorganized four years ago. Already a big seller of ready-to-roll programming, it expanded into formats and production services. This opened doors. “It is hard to sell a finished product to Mexico, but it will buy formats,” Parra says. That holds true for most territories with ample ad markets like Asia and Western Europe, where it is targeting format sales.
Its studios in Buenos Aires are busy, too, with remakes of sitcoms and novelas for Brazil, Mexico and Russia. Its teams are overseeing retreads abroad and selling finished products to territories with smaller budgets and elsewhere as a stepping-stone to acquiring formats.
The strategy is working. Sales were 20% above expectations in 2006, and Telefe Intl. is now one of the world’s busiest sellers of fiction formats, ahead of its bigger rivals in Brazil and Mexico, Parra says.
Still, competition is getting tougher. Brazil, Colombia and Mexico are pushing adaptation rights. Argentina’s Cuatro Cabezas, a seasoned exporter of nonfiction formats, is expanding into that territory. Dori Media Group, an Israel-based programmer founded by Yair Dori, has set up a distribution unit in Buenos Aires, run by a former Telefe Intl. manager. It’s making tracks with format sales of “Alma pirata” (Pirate Soul), “Amor mio” (Loony Love), “Rebels” and “Floricienta” (Floribella) from Cris Morena Group and RGB Entertainment. It also handles Ideas del Sur and Pol-ka, the beefy associate producers of Telefe’s rival Artear-Canal 13.
Production strategy is vital, says Cris Morena, who is at work on “Casi angeles,” about street kids getting a new start, and targeting sales to China, Japan and Western Europe.
“Argentines have a high level of imagination to resolve problems,” she says. “We are used to working hard and with few resources. We complete a 45-minute program of top artistic quality in one working day, which gives us an enormous economic advantage when drafting budgets.” Elsewhere, it can take five to 10 days an episode.
A key to this swift pace is a lengthy pre-production process, affording creatives ample preparation time, she says.
There are downsides. To meet international standards, budgets are higher than what can be recouped domestically, from a paltry ad market of only $200 million a year. That heightens risk, Morena says. To make a profit, “we must count on a high margin of exports.”
To bolster overseas earnings, she offers not just formats but the know-how to develop spinoff businesses, from albums to branded merchandise, magazines and live theater and concerts. With “Rebels,” Mexico’s Televisa spun off the pop group RBD, now a smash and earnings booster.
There is still ground to cover to make cross-border success sustainable. Not all programs do well abroad. They’re yanked prematurely or slotted at marginal hours, says Lorena Sanchez, a media expert in Buenos Aires.
Needed is greater long-term commitment for quality products, not a reliance on the country’s favorable exchange rate of 3.10 pesos per dollar, she says.