Habemus un megastar. Argentina got its most recognizable media icon March 13 when Jorge Mario Bergoglio was named Pope Francis, replacing soccer idol Diego Maradona as Argentina’s most famous export. Latin America is key to the Catholic Church, but it’s increasingly important to the global showbiz industry as well. In 2012, Argentina’s box office grew faster than China’s, spiking 35%. It boasts some of the world’s most aggressive movie buyers, such as Sun Distribution; and crossover talent, such as Pablo Trapero, now signed up to direct an English-language film for Working Title. More than anything else, however, Argentina offers a reminder of a basic business model. If Hollywood — or any other player elsewhere — wants to increase market penetration, that success will come most easily by collaboration with local players and talent. In Argentina, Disney is showing the way.
Creatively, it’s a gold mine. However, inflation is whittling Argentina’s cost advantages. Box office is booming. Disney released 11 locally made movies there last year. The country hosts some of Latin America’s most creative TV and commercials companies. Argentina also frequently exports TV shows and formats, and it hosts Latin America’s biggest film mart-and-meet, Ventana Sur. Recent Hollywood visitors: Viggo Mortensen for the Fox Intl. Prods.-backed “Everybody Has a Plan” and John Cusack for U.S.-Argentine co-production “No
(From the pages of the April 2 issue of Variety.)
Argentina is a long haul from L.A. or Europe. It’s worth it. It also has the sixth largest number of airports (1,149) of any country in the world. It’s sometimes less easy to get around a clogged Buenos Aires. Plan up to an hour for cross-city taxi rides.
41% of the population is under 24. The people are highly literate and e-literate, with 11.2 million Internet-connected computers, more than in Canada. Smartphone ownership is high, but so is smart talk: Argentineans pride themselves on their European origins, love things French, and haunt cafes in districts like Buenos Aires’ Palermo Soho and Canitas. They also are capable of analyzing anything, including themselves: Buenos Aires is said to have the highest number of shrinks of any city in the world.
Hollywood animation tops Argentine charts: “Cars” in 2011, “Ice Age: Continental Drift” in 2012, and most recently “Wreck-It Ralph.” When a studio takes pan-Latin American rights on Argentine pics, it can package them for ever more valuable pan-Latin American pay TV deals. That’s one reason Sun Distribution bought all Latin American rights on a slew of U.S. titles at the Berlin Film Festival. Current returns to studios on Argentine pics may not be stratospheric, but they do add up — and these days, any incremental revenue has CFOs lathering in joy.
Retro drama “Graduados,” 2012’s TV phenom, achieved the nigh-impossible: Seating toda la familia in front of the tele. Soaps — romantic imbroglio “Dulce Amor,” love comedy “Solamente Vos” — are scoring 2013’s biggest ratings. The biggest network battle is a mano a mano between Telefe/Canal 11 (9.1%, March 1-21) and Artear/Canal 13 (7.8%). America 2 (5%), Canal 9 (4.7%) and pubcaster Canal 7 (2.6%) traditionally trail. Argentine shows have a near lock on big primetime ratings. Hollywood and beyond only get a check-in with evergreen “The Simpsons” and weekend movie slots. Payback time comes on pay TV, dominated by a score or more of branded U.S. channels.
ARGENTINA AT A GLANCE
Size: 2.7 million sq km
Capital: Buenos Aires
Languages spoken: Spanish
Religion: 92% Roman Catholic (less than 20% practicing)
Population: 42.6 million
Population aged 24 and under: 41%
Average age: 30.7 years old
Known For: Pope Francis, Eva Peron, the tango
B.O. growth in 2012: 35%
Landline phones: 10.1 million
Cell phones: 55 million
Internet users: 13.7 million
*Figures from CIA World Factbook, Ibope, Sc reen Digest, Variety