SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain — Movistar Plus, the pay-TV unit of Spanish telecom giant Telefonica, has boarded three of Spain’s most prominent movie productions — part of Telefonica’s goal of becoming the biggest Spanish-language fiction hub in the world.
Luis Miguel Gilperez, president of Telefonica España, recently announced that Telefonica will plow about €70 million ($79 million) annually into original productions. The lion’s share of that will go to original series.
Telefonica posted €47.2 billion ($53.1 billion) in revenues last year, more than four times Vivendi’s sales.
It’s no coincidence that Telefonica has chosen a film festival, San Sebastian, to present its latest TV series Saturday. One key to its success in TV is forging talent relations with great screenwriters, directors and producers. Movistar Plus, which will channel Telefonica’s content investment, wants to work with these talents on both the small and big screens.
Movistar Plus’ most recent investments, as a minority co-producer, underscore both its desire to take equity in a range of movies and to work with the best talent in the Spanish business.
Backed by Sony and Spain’s Zeta Cinema, the 2015 comedy “Now or Never” grossed $9.5 million in Spain last year, making it Sony’s second-biggest hit of 2015, , after “Hotel Transylvania 2.”
Among the three new movie productions Movistar Plus has boarded is Ripoll’s “Chess for Three,” described by Gabriel Arias-Salgado, Telefonica film production head, as “a classic ‘My Fair Lady’-style romantic comedy.” The project is at first-draft screenplay stage, tracking for an early 2017 shoot.
The animated “Tad 2: The Secret of King Midas” features the Indiana Jones-style adventures of Tad, an ordinary Spanish Joe. The first film in the franchise, “Tad, the Lost Explorer,” grossed about $50 million worldwide. The sequel, which has been picked up by Paramount in a worldwide distribution deal, reunites the original’s producers: Telecinco Cinema, 4Cats Pictures, Lightbox Animation Studios and Telefonica.
“The first ‘Tad’ was a true-blue hit. ‘Tad 2’ has a great screenplay and should be very entertaining,” said Arias-Salgado.
“Gold” is an upcoming Conquistador epic, co-produced by Sony Pictures, Atresmedia Cine and Apache Films. It has been acquired for distribution in the U.S., Latin America and Spain by Sony Pictures.
Spain’s Agustin Diaz Yanes (“Alatriste”) is attached to direct, adapting a short story by Arturo Perez Reverte, author of the novel that yielded “Queen of the South.” Directed by Diaz Yanes, based on a Reverte novel and starring Viggo Mortensen, 2006’s “Alatriste” proved an early modern Spanish blockbuster.
“Gold” stars Oscar Jaenada (“Cantinflas”), Raul Arevalo (“Marshland”), Jose Coronado (“No Rest For the Wicked”) and Barbara Lennie (“Magical Girl”).
“This is a Conquistador-era Western, like ‘The Wild Bunch,’ with a romantic element as well. The cast is very strong. It is Agustin Diaz Yanes’ comeback, and Arturo Perez-Reverte has consulted on the screenplay,” Arias-Salgado said.
“Tripulante 9,” a fourth Movistar Plus co-production, marks the anticipated debut of Hatem Khraiche, screenwriter of “The Hidden Face,”co-produced by Cactus Flower. “Tripulante 9,” produced by Spain’s Cactus Flower and Mono but shot in Colombia, is “a romantic drama with a sci-fi context,” according to Arias-Salgado. It stars Clara Lago (“The Hidden Face,” “Spanish Affair”) and Alex Gonzalez (“X Men: First Class”). The movie is now in post-production.
Telefonica-owned premium pay-TV operator Canal Plus pre-bought 38 Spanish films in 2015. It will continue in this line, said Arias Salgado.
But, with its quota obligation to invest in Spanish film as an IPTV reduced to “virtually no obligation” since November 2015, Movistar Plus is studying the possibility of abandoning minority co-production partnerships in favor of 100% backing of original movie productions from top-flight Spanish directors, Arias-Salgado said.
Since 2013, Telefonica’s film production investment has been channeled through the label Telefonica Studios. Telefonica will now channel both its film and TV production through Movistar Plus.
To encourage emerging talent, Movistar Plus will be creating a third-year fellowship for four students, two at Barcelona’s ESCAC, the other two at Madrid’s ECAM, arguably Spain’s top two film schools. One grant at both schools would be for direction, another for screenwriting.
For Arias Salgado. the ultimate goal of Telefonica’s original-content production is to create films and TV series which set Movistar Plus apart for clients, boosting its pay-TV business and giving added value to the Movistar Plus Fusion bundle of TV, Internet, and fixed and cell telephony.
That strategy gives Movistar Plus’ investment a quad-play rationale, relieving some of the pressures that are being felt by traditional standalone pay-TV operators as digital platforms launch worldwide.
Branding itself as the home of premium Spanish fiction, Movistar Plus can also set itself apart from Netflix and HBO, which launches in Spain as a streaming service before the end of the year.