MADRID — In an event that adds a new wrinkle to the trending industry debate of whether telecoms and cable operators should invest in content, Telefonica-Movistar +’s biggest original series to date, noirish historical drama “The Plague” has bowed in Spain to the best results of any series aired or available on Movistar +, Telefonica’s two-and-a-half year-old pay TV unit.
A serial killer thriller with rich historical detail set in Seville around 1580 as the city is ravaged by bubonic plague, “The Plague’s” initial episode viewers were 40% up on the best bow in Movistar +’s history, the inaugural segment on Movistar + of Season 7 of “Game of Thrones,” Movistar + has announced in a press statement.
90% of consumership was via VOD. One in five viewers had binged the whole series in its first four days. The other three Movistar + series – fashion-world-set romantic melodrama “Velvet Collection,” launched Sept. 25; genre-tinted, noirish mystery crime drama “The Zone,” set after a nuclear reactor meltdown, aired from Oct. 27; and “Spanish Shame,” an excruciatingly embarrassing Spanish couple comedy, made available from Nov. 27 – all rank in Movistar’s current Top 10 of most watched drama releases in 2017, the statement added.
Factors explaining “The Plague’s” success cut several ways. Movistar Plus adopted a long run-in promotion of the series, first announcing it in January 2016, two years before its commercial release. “The Plague” was the first TV series to make official selection of the San Sebastian Festival, the highest-profile film event in the Spanish-speaking world.
In the run-up to the series bow, Movistar + launched a muscular marketing and communication campaign, not only via commercials on Movistar + but plugs during its soccer match transmissions, social media campaigns, actors’ interviews and billboards in city centers aimed at making ‘La Peste’ the TV event of the first part of 2018 and suggest that if you weren’t catching it, you were missing out.
Here, Movistar + can leverage the fact that it is by far Spain’s biggest pay TV operator with about 4 million subscribers.
But such strategies only work if a work is worthy of such promotion. “The Plague” has been championed by some of Spain’s most prominent critics, such as Carlos Boyero at quality newspaper El País, has struck positive reactions among audiences, combines and institutions in Seville’s Andalucia. Created by Alberto Rodriguez – one of Spain’s most popular upscale filmmakers, whose movie “Marshland” swept the Spanish Academy Goya Awards in 2015, and his longterm screenwriter Rafael Cobos – and produced by Movistar + and José Antonio Félez’s Atípica Films, Rodriguez’s longterm producer, “The Plague” has been made at a budgetary scale of $1.8 million per episode.
That has allowed proper longterm development and given Spaniards what amounts to an immersion in sixteenth century Seville, what it was like to walk down its bustling streets, or live in its shanty town beyond the city walls, the near cavern inhabited by its child workers, its under-ground passageways, the pomp of its palaces, the rich’s amusement at new imports, such as toothpaste.
“I’m very happy for both the critical and audience success of ‘The Plague.’ This encourages us to continue along the same path. In personal terms, I feel prevailed to be able to work on a project such as ‘The Plague,’ with creators who have so much talent,” said Domingo Corral, Movistar + director of original fiction.
With the series being seen primarily on VOD, first results of the full series viewership will not be in for some time.
The result comes in a country where series with local referents blow U.S. dramas out of the waters in free-to-air primetime and proved as popular on VOD, even before Movistar +’s release. That said, the success of Movistar + series, which range widely but sometimes, in a pay TV style, make larger demands on audiences, was not guaranteed.
In the final analysis, Telefonica has plowed into original series production to encourage connectivity to its fiber optic and cell phone services.
Here, “the results prove that it can make sense for telcos to invest in content,” said Maria Aguete, IHS Markit research director, technology, media & telecom.
She added: For subscribers, hit TV series will help to reduce churn while non-clients who want access to quality drama like ‘The Plague’ won’t just take the TV option, but will take multiple services, which for telcos like Telefonica means up to quadplay. The growth is not only in TV, but from all these other services, which bring in higher ARPU.”
At Telefonica España, “commercial activity has progressively improved in the last three months, reflecting the focus on value and the results of the two new “Fusión+” options launched in July (“Fusión Series” for €60 ($74) and “Fusión #0” for €45 – $56), which incorporated the TV service and its functions to the entire convergent portfolio,” Aguete noted.
Pay TV net additions of 100,000 over July to September 2017 doubled the figure of the previous quarter, fostered by the new Fusión quadplay bundles launched in July, she argued.