CANNES — One large question Telefonica’s Movistar + had when it began to hatch ideas for original series creation was: “How can you compete being a local operator with big conglomerates that can write big checks and invest so much in programming?” Domingo Corral, Movistar + director of original fiction recalled on stage at Mipcom Monday, delivering one of the convention’s first Keynote speeches.
He had a point. Spain’s biggest pay TV operator, Movistar +’s total annual content budget, even including sports rights, is around $800 millionm Netflix’s over $4 billion, according to IHS Markit.
But, featuring excerpts from Movistar + very first original series slate, Corral’s keynote gave one immediate answer: Movistar Original Series production volume.
Corral screened clips from no less than seven series, including Mipcom international Premieres “The Plague” and “La Zona,” and, in what may have been first-ever sneak-peaks, Cesc Gay’s “Felix,” Enrique Urbizu’s “Giants” and Berto Romero’s “Look What You’ve Done.”
“TV is about quantity, it’s about quality, but at the same time you have to make enough shows to be relevant. We decided the best number was to make 12 originals [a year]. That’s the basis of our struggle,” Corral continued.
Doing so, Movistar +, the pay TV unit of Telefonica, one of Europe’s three biggest telecoms, has won the applause of analysts.
“Spain is now a highly competitive market. Netflix launched there in October 2015, and will close 2017 with one million subscribers. HBO, from November, Amazon Prime Video, from December and, Sky, from last month, all operate streaming services in Spain,” said Maria Rua Aguete, at IHS Markit.
But there’s a difference, she added: “Telefonica will produce 12 series a year, while Netflix only one or two [Spanish series]. For anyone wanting to see local content, the place to see it is Telefonica.”
Movistar + is trying to make “very Spanish shows” with “international production values and the best story telling,” spending “a lot of time working and developing the scripts,” “taking risks,” “surrounding ourselves with the best talent,” and producing “character-driven shows. We believe that good TV in the end is about having rich complex characters you engage emotionally,” Corral said, summarizing his production philosophy.
It was the Spanishness of Movistar productions which stood out from the clips, “Felix,” coming across as a Spanish “Fargo,” with odd-ball characters in a snowbound and spectacular Pyrenees; “Look What You’ve Done,” a first-time parenting comedy half hour, boasting Almodóvar-ish vibrant primary colors; and “Giants” featuring a gypsy patriarch at war with his sons.
Joining Corral on stage, Alberto Rodríguez, creator of “The Plague,” talked about his desire to portray 1580 Seville, but from the point of view of the common citizen, not the palaces of the rich. Jorge Sánchez-Cabezudo called “La Zona,” a family drama horror thriller about a community devastated by nuclear catastrophe, a “metaphor for Spain’s economic crisis.”
Corral was also joined on stage by Jan Mojto, head of Beta Film, which has acquired world sales rights to “Velvet Collection” and “La Zona.” and Jane Millichip, at Sky Vision, which swooped on “The Plague.”
Telefónica’s Movistar + has one thing definitely going for it, said Jan Mojto, head of Beta Film That is a trend which is “stronger than in any other European country, which is the role of the creator. Creators are becoming producers, starting their own production companies,” Mojto said, citing “Velvet Collection’s” Ramón Campos, its co-creator and co-founder of Bambú Producciones, which produced the series.
“This is very specific in Spain and it guarantees interesting productions,” Mojto added.
Millichip sprang to fame last year for arguing that the high-end production sector faced the danger of a sub-prime mortgage disaster where budgets vasty outstripped financing.
“I’m beginning to regret having said that because I can’t get rid of that quote,” she said on stage.
“What started to make me worried a few years ago was that the premium pay players were few and far between. There is a type of drama that comes from them which is usually great writing, and lean-forward TV with scope and scale,” Millichip added, citing Sky.
“When we met the guys from Movistar we felt we were very like-minded,” she said.
Movistar + budgets $1.8 million per episode of “The Plague, may pale before “Game of Thrones” ($10 million), but is still significantly above the $660,000 average episode cost of Spanish free-to-air seres and no far off “Narcos” ($2.5 million), according to an IHS Markit study, Pay TV and Online Video, Trends – Spain 2017.
But can the Movistar series work? So far, some initial results are at least encouraging. German public broadcaster ZDF has boarded “La Zona,” which is also pre-sold to Poland as a co-producer, Beta Film announced Monday. Major international deals are i final negotiations for “Velvet Collection,” which bowed on Movistar + on Sept. 22 to a bigger average audiences for is first two episodes than “Game of Thrones.”
Movistar + has renewed both “Velvet Collection” and “The Plague” for a second season.