Canal’s fashions original pipeline

Spanish feevee ups commitment to local product

MADRID — Spanish pay TV is trying to follow in HBO’s footsteps, plowing into series production.

In January, Turner feevee TNT announced Spain’s first original pay TV drama, director Mariano Barroso’s relationship skein, “Entre todas las mujeres.”

On March 24, Spain’s main paybox, Prisa-owned Canal Plus Spain, revealed it would produce a comedy suspenser from helmer-scribe David Trueba as well as Jorge Sanchez-Cabezudo’s “Crematorio,” a social-issue portrait of modern Spain. “Crematorio” is produced by Fernando Bovaira, a frequent collaborator of Alejandro Amenabar.

In an increasingly crowded TV market, Spain’s pay TV players need original series to build brand.

“Compared with France, U.K. or Italy, pay TV in Spain has to grow,” says Turner Spain general manager Domingo Corral. “More subscribers give us more muscle to up the ante on fiction.”

Like Canal Plus France, Canal Plus Spain and TNT have turned to a young generation of filmmakers.

Sanchez-Cabezudo’s 2006 rural drama, “The Night of the Sunflowers,” was an impressive movie debut. Trueba (“The Good Life”) is a witty and popular relationship chronicler, while Barroso has made critically praised psychological dramas such as “Washington Wolves.”

Canal Plus Spain believes filmmakers should explore a new kind of TV fiction where story-telling and pacing is different, and dramas target demographics and middle-ground fiction — not general entertainment TV or cinema, says Alex Martinez Roig, general manager for pay TV content.

As in the U.S., original production on pay TV webs is beginning to produce some of the best series in Europe — think Olivier Marchal’s brutal “Braquo” in France or Sky Italia’s mafia skein “Romanzo criminale.”

Both Canal Plus Spain projects will be ready to deliver by early 2011 to play on pay, free and second-run free windows. Plural Entertainment will handle international rights.

The big question, perhaps, is how far Canal Plus Spain’s original series commitment goes.

In Spain, content isn’t king — soccer is.

While still airing Spanish league games, Digital Plus lost 189,000 subs in 2009 after Media-pro launched rival pay TV soccer channel, Gol TV.

“Soccer rights are still the key content rights for Digital Plus,” says Luis Padron, at financier BNP Paribas-Fortis, an opinion shared by Adrian Zunzunegui, at Iberian Equities.

But TV regs approved in March that oblige commercial nets to invest at least 2% of revenues in TV series, minis or docus could encourage them to continue with original drama.

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