Paybox Movistar to Produce Eight TV

Kicking off with Alberto Rodriguez's historical thriller series 'La peste,' original series commitment a milestone for Spanish scripted TV

MADRID — In a watershed move for Spain’s TV production sector, giant telco Telefonica’s Movistar Plus, Spanish leading paybox, unveiled Friday part of its long-anticipated TV production plans, that will include eight-to-ten original TV series productions a year, starting from 2017.

The commitment situates Telefonica-Movistar on a production level with Europe’s pay big TV players, such as Sky and Canal Plus. Currently, Movistar is developing 20 original TV fiction series project.

An early flagship title at Movistar’s TV drama slate, Alberto Rodriguez’s period thriller “La peste,” made in partnership with Jose Antonio Felez’s Madrid-based Atipica, entered production this month.

Telefionica-Movistar Plus revelation of the scale of TV production plans comes four days after Bloomberg unveiled HBO plans to launch a standalone streaming service in Spain, where Netflix operates from October.

The timing may just be coincidence, Telefonica’s production strategy is not.

It is not foreseeable that either Netflix, which is considering the production of one series in Spain, or HBO would have the muscle in the immediate future to meet the production volume of Movistar Plus. On this count, Telefonica’s content offer will have a large competitive advantage.

“We need to have series made in Spain, intended for the Spanish audiences and produced in the manner of the great series that we enjoy today,” said Domingo Corral, Movistar Plus original production director.

“No doubt we have a competitive advantage,” Corral said. “I don’t know what plans HBO and Netflix have for Spain but an operator that doesn’t make a true bet on local production will have a very limited run, which is what good international TV series give you: Spaniards want to see first Spanish series, as Americans want to see first U.S. series,” he added.

Although mainly focused on Spanish-language TV series, Movistar will also enter into English-language international co-productions, and the paybox is in advanced talks with European pay TV giants such as Canal Plus France and Sky to collaborate in ambitious English-language TV fiction projects, Corral said.

Movistar Plus original series will be 50/50 one-hour dramas and 30-minute sitcoms.

The pay TV operator will bet on TV fiction projects with a cinema-level production standards, opened to creators with an original point of view and a story to tell, where the screenwriter – for near the first time ever in Spain, bar legendary figures such as Rafael Azcona – will be one of the production’s stars. Notably, Movistar’s photo-call included not only Felez, Corral and Rodriguez but Rafael Cobos, series scribe and Rodriguez’s longtime co-scribe.

Movistar executives declined to comment on budgetary levels for its TV fiction production investment. The initiative can generate in the mid-term large and positive effects for Spain’s TV fiction production sector.

With its TV fiction bet, a Spanish paybox is for the first time ever making a serious and sustained investment in original series, a business previously a near monopoly of free-to-air broadcast groups.

“The arrival of a player like Movistar will help to boost the Spanish production sector, allowing producers to develop projects that otherwise they would never have been able to take on,” said Atipica’s Jose Antonio Felez, “La peste” producer.

“We are very conscious of our responsibility to do things right for Movistar because if we create a good product, this may well help other Spanish producers to follow the same path,” Felez added.

“La peste” will start to shoot before year-end and will premiere October 2017 on Movistar Plus.

Co-written by Rodriguez and Cobos, the scribe duo behind acclaimed cop thriller “Marshland,” “La peste” is set in the cosmopolitan, bustling city of Seville city in the 16th Century, whose miseries will be uncovered when it is ravaged by bubonic plague.

“La peste is a detective story but at the bottom it’s about conflicts, power, politics, religion… that took place in a distant era but could be transferred to the present. These are problems what we still face because they are linked to the human condition,” Rodriguez said.

The series will be “a fresco of the Seville and the Spain of that period,” he added.

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