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Mipcom: Fox Networks Group Latin America’s Edgar Spielmann on Latin America’s TV Drama Sea Change

Deeply embedded in local production, U.S. companies are helping steer Latin America’s rampant TV fiction makeover

CANNES  — The collective memory of 2017’s Mipcom will be colored by bold posters for “Deep State” from Fox Networks Group Content Distribution, dominating the entrance into the Carlton, for example. But FNGCD is not looking to source shows from just Europe and Africa. From the turn of the decade,  beginning with “Besieged,” Fox Networks Group Latin American has been ramping up its original series local production effort in Latin America, then sold by FNGCD. It has just scored a hit in Mexico with cross-border caper “Run, Coyote, Run.” In the Gael García Bernal-directed “Aquí en la tierra,” it has one of the most ambitious series in the pipeline in Latin America. Like other Hollywood  companies, Fox is helping to drive a TV drama revolution in the region. Variety spoke to Edgar Spielmann, COO, Fox Networks Group, Latin America, on change in the region’s scripted series scene.

What do you see as the major changes in Latin American TV?

Over the last two years, free-to-air series are shortening, down to 60-episodes in some case, but pay TV formats are up from 8-13 to 32-40, even 60. People want to consume series faster; but pay TV operators like Fox Networks Group are thinking of formats beyond the scope of 8-13 episodes to engage with audiences longer. This is a trend that I am just sensing, something happening as we speak, younger than a year. Compared to telenovelas of 10 or even five years ago, production values are much better now. They have bigger budgets too.

Any other changes?

Unlike in even the recent past, and especially on premium shows, you see Mexicans shooting Argentinian shows, and vice versa. You didn’t see so much of that even in the last five years. It comes down to the availability of shows on pan-regional streaming and cable networks. networks. In our case, we have a Fox app streamed across Latin America and of course our channels air across the region. We have taken talent from Colombia’s Andres Parra, Mexico’s Marimar Vega, Argentina’s Macarena Achaea –   in the Chilean series “Besieged,” for example – and put them in shows that play all over Latin America. That creates a pan-regional fan base. It’s also part of our DNA.

“Besieged” was a significant hit for Fox Networks Group Latin America…. 

So much so that we commissioned a second season and are about to finish the production and we’ve started development of Season 3. It’s a good story that can travel. We are shooting Season 2 in Cartagena so we moved from Patagonia with volcanoes and rain forests to Caribbean beaches and oceans. It’s the same genre, it’s epic, it’s period, and it’s a drama, and reflects our programming strategies. We look for issues that are part of the LatAm identity. That are local – though we portray use pan-regional events in premium but have a high quality of production and are stories that could work anywhere in the world We look for things that are part of the LatAm identity. They are local. We do use pan-regional in premium, high quality of production, but the stories are those that could work anywhere in the world. Almost a third of the shows we have produced have seen a second and third season. Our next challenge is how we to export outside Latin America, go beyond what we have done here.

In this context, “Aqui en la Tierra,” starring Gael García Bernal, seems a conscious effort to make a Latin American series which is premium, has a great actor, talks about a contemporary reality, and is made for global consumption.

That is correct. It has renowned actors, great directors but most importantly a wonderful story that we are able to execute with a high quality of production. In the premium business there are large opportunities but we need to have this key ingredient. I think we are going to be able to expand this show beyond Latin America. What I have seen so far is very exciting.

The main challenge for premium TV in Latin America may be the battle for premium talent when the number of screenwriters or directors with experience of making higher-end TV is limited outside the U.S., especially among screenwriters….

Yes but we have seen many people crossing over from cinema to TV. We have an experienced in-house development team and joint ventures with two production companies, Fox TeleColombia and Estudios TeleMexico which produce most of our shows. The region’s main free-to-air broadcasters have development teams. Every year, we run an idea contest and receive on average around 1,500 scripts a year. It’s all about creating a virtuous cycle between the audiences we can reach, the creativity of our internal development team, the partners we work with, development and production financing capacity and marketing. It’s a virtuous cycle, though it doesn’t happen overnight.

An IHS Markit presentation in Madrid in early October pointed out that that traditional pay TV is still growing everywhere everywhere except North America. Is your entry into content production predicated on growing audiences for Fox networks shows in Latin America?

Not necessarily. We are open to develop and produce for anyone. We’ve done shows that are not exclusive to our networks. We are open to co-production, such as on “Run, Coyote, Run” which we produced with ClaroVideo. Aired on FX Mexico, the finale of the first season was around more than 500% above the primetime average we have on the network. It was the number one show watched that night in Mexico. The show has a second season confirmed already, which will start to be shot in a few weeks in Mexico.

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