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Latin America Broadcasters Play Up Drama With High-End Event Series

It’s not only Hollywood that’s plunging into scaled-up serialized TV dramas — some of Latin America’s biggest broadcasters are pumping up TV fiction budgets and technology, exploring shorter-format production, attaching name directors and creating event series.

Latin America’s premium fiction push allows broadcasters — such as behemoths Argentina’s Telefe, Colombia’s Caracol TV, Brazil’s Globo and TV Record — to protect domestic market shares while priming international sales, often at Mip TV and the L.A. Screenings. with some of the most singular Latin American TV dramas hitting the international market in 2015.

» In Argentina, director Juan Jose Campanella, who won an Oscar with “The Secret in Their Eyes,” is in production for Telefe on “Entre canibales,” a noirish 120-segment rape revenge thriller involving a presidential candidate which has a cinema sensibility -it’s harder-boiled than most series – is shot in 4K and neutral Spanish, has seen extended development, and stars Natalia Oreiro (“The German Doctor”), Benjamin Vicuna (“Profugos”) and Joaquin Furriel (“The Boss: Anatomy of a Crime”).

“The series will help catapult Argentine TV and Telefe to another level,” says Tomas Yankelevich, content and international business director, Telefe.

» Sold at Mip TV, Colombia’s Caracol will unveil the 60-segment “Emeralds, the Color of Ambition,” to air late first-half 2015 An emerald mine family saga straddling 35 years and three generations and shot in some 300 locations, it features multiple action sequences, heavy vfx and 1,200 extras and Sony F55 camerawork.

» In Brazil, “Moses and the 10 Commandments” bowed March 23 on Brazil’s TV Record, pushing the channel’s March market share up from 12.6% to 13.1%. Billed as an “epic” telenovela, and shot in Rio de Janeiro, Israel, Egypt and Chile, it ranges over 100 episodes and 100 years, promising multiple narrative wrinkles in its desert stretch, and cost 700,000 reals ($219,000) an episode, high by Brazilian standards.

» Brazilian TV giant Globo will shop at Mip TV serial killer thriller “Merciless,” boasting scripts from Gloria Perez (“The Clone”), and high-end 4K cameras and post-prod technology, and “The Hunter,” which offers lead Caua Reymond, star of Globo’s mega-hit “Brazil Avenue.”

Why the premium productions? One factor: the state of domestic ad markets. While Argentina’s ad market is up 29% in 2014, at $1.9 billion, Argentine TV ad spend is still low in a relatively small country, repping only 40% of total ad expenditure.

“Argentine TV is high quality, highly competitive, but its ad market is rather mediocre,” says Telefe’s Yankelevich. Colombia’s TV ad market shows healthier mid-term prospects than Argentina’s, already soaring 69% to $1.6 billion over the 2009-13 frame.

Investing millions in re-versioning foreign formats, broadcasters only see upside from domestic. So Telefe has made a big switch to development and international co-production, “making products that aren’t so local, are international-standard,” says Yankelevich. Telefe is talking to many international partners to co-develop and co-produce shows, fiction and non-scripted, he  adds.

Latin American broadcasters have “recognized they’ve got to produce local content that can compete with the imported content, which means bigger, more ambitious shows with higher production standards,” says Electus founder-CEO Ben Silverman, who sourced Colombia’s “Ugly Betty” and “Jane the Virgin,” a Venezuelan format, for U.S. re-versioning.

“Our market has reached really high standards,” says Lisette Osorio, VP of international sales at Caracol TV Intl. “We can’t aim lower, or the public will react. We must be one step ahead.”

For TV groups in healthier national markets, Latin America’s higher-end shows are domestic moves with often-international upside. Ambitious fare can also have larger international reach: 2012 event series “Pablo Escobar, the Drug Lord” sold to more than 50 countries. “We sold it everywhere, to countries where we never believed our content would be released,” Osorio says.

Wrongly jailed cop thriller “The Hunter,” a 12-segment Globo dramatic series, grabbed a 35% share in both Brazil and Portugal, bowing in Portugal on March 21 in a post-primetime Saturday series slot on SIC, one of its big three broadcasters. “The Hunter” is part of Globo’s macro strategy to engage Brazilian audiences in as many varying ways possible. But as that leads to ever more diversified programming, international benefits as well.

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