New video-on-demand services are sprouting across the region

MADRID – Latin America’s VOD landscape is rapidly gaining definition.

In September, Netflix launched a streaming-only service throughout the region. Argentina’s two big telcos, Telefonica de Argentina and Telecom Argentina, also have rolled out VOD services.

In Brazil, VOD is offered by satcaster Sky and cabler Net. Also in Brazil, NetMovies, Latin America’s biggest local Internet VOD operator, streams 4,000 films and series, having cut its first major U.S. studio deal, with Disney, in September.

For independent films, worldwide online VOD player Mubi operates throughout Latin America; Mexico has Canana OnDemand, Argentina has website Comunidad Zoom.

At last month’s Ventana Sur, Spain’s Filmin, an Internet film/TV VOD company, inked a deal with Colombia distrib Cineplex to develop a service for Spanish-speaking Latin America; Cineplex will contribute content and technology to the Colombia Filmin service, says Filmin CEO Juan Carlos Tous.

Cineplex’s big 2012 releases — “Tree of Life,” “Drive,” “A Dangerous Method” and “Elena” — will be among pics available on the online service, says Cineplex prexy Elba McAllister. The Colombia launch will take place in the first half 2012 with 1,000 titles, 300 from Colombia and other Latin American countries, the rest international, mostly Europe-sourced.

Working with local territory partners, Filmin aims to expand throughout Spanish-speaking Latin America.

The Filmin-Cineplex alliance highlights opportunities for VOD in the region. Currently, Latin American online TV/video subscription revenues are minimal: 2010 saw just $1 million from Argentina, $4 million from Brazil and $3 million from Mexico, according to Digital TV Research.

Indie VOD in Latin America “is still at a diaper stage of growth, but it is growing,” says Canana partner Pablo Cruz, who adds that Canana’s VOD release of its TV series “Soy tu fan” solicited more buys than a normal studio release.

But Canana OnDemand is carried on Cablevision, Mexico City’s dominant cabler. Online, straight-to-PC services could face a tougher battle. In Mexico, for instance, people don’t want to give away credit card details on the Web, Cruz says.

For Latin America in general, Filmin’s challenges are little different from those of Netflix: Piracy is high, broadband penetration is low — at 36% for Argentina, 24% for Brazil and 35% for Mexico in 2011, according to Screen Digest.

Yet pay TV reaches less than 25% of Latin American households vs. 90% in the U.S., so VOD is far better positioned to give pay TV a run for its money in the region, analysts say.

VOD is also essential in a highly concentrated Latin American cinema exhibition market stuffed with multiplexes that, even more so than in Europe, is dominated by Hollywood blockbusters.

“VOD,” McAllister says, “offers huge opportunities for the distribution of Latin American and independent films.”

Marcelo Cajueiro, Charles Newbery and James Young contributed to this report.

Filed Under:

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