Shanghai Media Groups inks with Telefe

Buenos Aires– Argentine broadcaster Telefe has landed its first co-production deal in China, as Latin American firms continue their push to open up the TV market on the mainland.

Buenos Aires-based Telefe is partnering with Shanghai Media Group to produce “Heartbeats,” about a group of Chinese kids who seek to achieve their dreams through art.

“Heartbeats” will be set and shot in China, largely in Shanghai, with oversight by Telefe directors and producers.

The first 40-episode season is in preproduction, and the second is being written. Telefe closed the deal this month after three years of talks with SMG.

It’s part of the firm’s move to increase sales to Asia after selling its original telenovelas and localized versions of those shows — including revenge drama “Montecristo,” corruption-laden “Resistire” (Forever Julia) and poor-meets-rich comedy “The Roldans” — widely in Europe, Latin America and the U.S.

With “Heartbeats,” Telefe went a slightly different route, crafting an original script for SMG, Michelle Wasserman, manager of international sales at Telefe Intl. tells Variety.

With its 1.3 billion population and growing middle class, “China has always had big potential but it was hard to reach,” Wasserman says.

More co-production deals are in the pipeline — SMG is interested in gamer “Justo a tiempo” (Just in Time) and two fiction formats.

Meanwhile, Shanghai-based Idea Asia Media recently optioned for local adaptation Telefe’s mistaken-identity comedy “Los exitosos Pells” (The Successful Pells).

With “Heartbeats,” Telefe will replicate the 360-degree business model it uses for its telenovelas in Argentina and elsewhere by spinning off CDs, DVDs, live theater and shows, among other things.

These spinoffs help drive sales of telenovelas outside Latin America, says Hugo Di Guglielmo, a media consultant in Buenos Aires.

The stories are easily adapted to local markets, and sales of related products are targeted to fans.

“Sales of the telenovela format will continue to grow, because it is becoming known in the world as a good business,” he says.

Telefe’s Sino success in selling “Heartbeats” follows deals by Mexican TV giant Televisa, which pacted to co-produce a telenovela with China Intl. TV Corp., the overseas arm of Chinese pubcaster giant CCTV, during the Mip TV mart in Cannes.

The Televisa telenovela, structured at 40 segs per season, will be set in China and shot in Mandarin with a local cast, director and indie producer.

Previously, Televisa co-produced the Chinese version of its Mexican take on “Ugly Betty” with Beijing-based production house Nesound for Hunan TV, while SMG produced a local version of Televisa’s “Dumb Girls Don’t Go to Heaven” — fifth-rated out of 35 shows in the Chinese national TV ratings.

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