MADRID – Financed by the potentially most powerful content player in the country, Spain looks set to gain its first pay TV premium production operation in years, courtesy of Telefonica, one of Europe’s biggest telecom companies.
Entering original production with top Spanish auteurs and ambition, Telefonica label Movistar Series, its new VOD series/film offer, announced Tuesday it will backing exclusive, original series by two of Spain’s most high-regarded movie director talents: David Trueba and Alberto Rodriguez.
In development, Trueba’s series turns on “couples, at different ages, in crisis or at that frontier between love and what comes after,” the director said. “Observational,” in tone, the series will allow for “humor,” “tension,” “everything which crosses in the characters’ paths, and whatever they allow us to say about them.”
Rodriguez is working on a thriller set in a seventeenth century Seville, the powerhouse port of departure for the New World, but ravaged by the bubonic plague.
Up-and-coming filmmakers for the last two decades, Trueba and Rodriguez have seen recent consecration at the forefront of Spanish filmmaking, sweeping the Spanish Academy Goya Awards. Trueba’s won in 2014 with “Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed,” a true-event based account of one man’s rebellion against the boredom and boorishness of Franco’s Spain. Rodriguez’s “Marshland,” this year’s Goya winner, is a brine-laced serial killer thriller set in the 1981 in the benighted flatlands outside his native Seville. It paints a far more nuanced portrait of Spain’s transition to democracy than is usual in Spanish cinema.
If Rodriguez’s seventeenth century setting for his next Seville thriller underscores the scale of Movistar Series’ ambitions, first comments by both Trueba and Corral suggest their screenwriter-directors will be given large freedoms – essential if Movistar Series is to attract top Spanish talent.
“Our obligation is to seek out talent and support creators. Give them time and space, freedom and respect to guarantee highest quality for our viewers,” said Domingo Corral, Movistar TV contents director.
In France, beginning with cop series “Spiral,” Canal Plus’ plunge into original content production forged a significant anti-churn and new subs driver at Europe’s second-biggest pay TV operation. In Spain, the real game-changer is still – may always be – soccer rights. Movistar TV moved smartly last week to close one-season rights to Barcelona soccer club games, paying a reported €140 million ($159.25 million) and a further €40 million ($45.5 million) in sponsorship.
At 22% penetration, Spain has considerable room for pay TV growth, observed one analyst. Telefonica’s quadplay offer of broadband, fixed telephony, cell-phone usage and pay TV for a cut-price €60 ($82.5) a month shows it is serious about powering up its content business in Spain. Trueba and Alberto Rodriguez’s series were announced one day before Telefonica unveils 2014 results today Wednesday. It is expected to use the occasion to reiterate plans to drive into content production and distribution.
Spain’s first and last premium pay TV production series, 2011’s “Whatever Happened To Jorge Sanz,” Trueba’s bathetic mockumentary on famed actor Sanz’s supposed rock-bottom miseries, and “Crematorium,” a scathing take on coastal construction corruption from Mod Producciones, producer of Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu’s “Biutiful, ” saw no continuity at paybox Canal Plus. Telefonica, which is awaiting anti-trust authority diktats on its purchase of Canal Plus, has however, far deeper pockets.
Emiliano de Pablos contributed to this report