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Telefonica to invest in local pics

Conglom offered local industry $72.2 bil in '09 revs

The cash-crunched Spanish film biz could use some hefty help, and it’s about to get it courtesy of Spain’s biggest company, telco giant Telefonica.

The conglom is co-producing Spanish movies once more, offering the local industry huge muscle with $72.2 billion in 2009 revenues.

It will also lend its promotional muscle with a marketing plan that will target its 270 million phone customers via websites and mailers.

First Telefonica co-productions are “Lope,” Andrucha Waddington’s take on Spain’s Golden Age playwright Lope de Vega, which screens at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday and the Toronto Film Festival on Monday, and Daniel Benmayor’s “Bruc,” which StudioCanal is selling at Toronto.

According to Angel Blasco, head of films at Telefonica’s corporate content unit, Telefonica holds an equity position of around 30% on “Lope,” a Brazil-Spain co-production.

The telco had been in the Spanish film biz previously but sold off its Lolafilms in 2004 after suffering losses. But Telefonica is now a very different company. It can look forward to growth from expansion in Europe and Latin America and increasing broadband connectivity, applications and new services, Telefonica prexy Cesar Alierta said earlier this year.

“Lope” and “Bruc” are the industry calling cards of two young but well-regarded production houses: Jordi Gasull’s El Toro Prods. and Edmon Roch’s Ikiru in Barcelona.

Blasco said the reasonably budgeted titles have solid commercial prospects.

TV forms a very small percentage of business but is growing, said Blasco. Spanish IPTV Imagenio now has 760,000 subs, for example.

While it’s too early to tell how much Telefonica will invest — it’s obligated to cough up some cash under new film quotas — producers welcome the move. Early estimates peg its film investment at a minimum of $15 million a year.

“If you want to make a more ambitious film, you can no longer rely on the classical way of financing out of Spain, mixing TV money and subsidies,” Gasull said.

Roch added: “Our interest in Telefonica as a partner is not purely financial. It also has all the means to promote and publicize a product for a Spanish film industry, which at times has lacked adequate means to reach wide audiences.”

Telefonica’s strongest case for staying in film would be if either “Lope” or “Bruc” click at the B.O.

Fox released “Lope” in Spain last Friday. It grossed €714,097 ($916,591) off 309 prints, the second-best opening weekend of any Spanish film this year. Warner Bros. has taken Latin American rights; Wild Bunch handles international sales.

StudioCanal is selling “Bruc,” which Universal releases Oct. 8 in Spain.