×

Movistar Plus Rides Tide of Spanish TV Renaissance

Few major TV players have launched into high-end drama production so quickly, or on such a scale, as Telefonica’s Spanish pay-TV unit Movistar Plus. Its first series, “Velvet Collection,” bowed on Movistar Plus on Sept. 22 to the largest average viewership of any series on the service, beating even “Game of Thrones.” Its flagship series “The Plague,” and “La Zona” now feature as Intl. Screenings at Mipcom where Domingo Corral, Movistar Plus director of original fiction, will deliver a keynote. Beta, which sells “The Zona” and “Velvet Collection” among four Spanish series, will celebrate with “The Art of Spain” dinner.

How Movistar Plus series can appeal in a highly competitive foreign-language TV market is another question. One simple answer is that, in terms of originality, and in more ways than one, Movistar Plus brings Spain to the big-budget series table.

Movistar Plus has set out to create series with full-on appeal to both domestic viewers and international audiences, says Ismael Calleja Baldominos, Movistar Plus head of business affairs.

The series display a “marked local character, which makes them different.”

That includes the settings, whether it’s the Pyrenees in “Felix,” Madrid’s Rastro market in “Giants,” the mountains of Asturias in the North (“La Zona”) or 16th century Seville (“The Plague”), adds Calleja.

“What we liked about ‘Giants’ is that it’s very Spanish — the old Madrid Andalusia. We’d be less interested in a Spanish series that tried to copy Nordic noir or a U.S. action show,” says Emmanuelle Guilbart at Paris-based About Premium Content, which is selling “Giants.”

While most Movistar Plus series have recognizable narrative formats, whether the detective dramas of “The Plague” and “La Zona,” the disappearing person suspense of “Felix” or aping the comic sensibilities of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in sitcom “Spanish Shame,” the singularity of setting gives them a bracing originality, says Jason Simms, director of drama/comedy at Sky Vision, which is selling “The Plague.”

“It’s great to see a detective show playing out in a world that hasn’t been treated in this way before. That is fantastically unique,” he says. “ ‘Narcos’ and ‘The Bridge’ also represented a world in a way that hadn’t necessarily been seen before. ‘The Plague’ fits in the same wheelhouse in terms of storytelling.”

Crucial in such a mix is a third element, however: Character.

Local detail would be a drawback, Calleja says, if it were not for the series’ “carefully written characters. When characters feel, live, generate emotions, that’s very human.”

And since humanity is much more similar than is often acknowledged, the result is series that are also “international,” Calleja adds.

One example: In “La Zona,” it is the portrait of the investigating police detective, the only on-the-scene survivor from the nuclear plant meltdown, his despair at the loss of his family and tentative attempts at rebuilding his life that really hits home in the early stretches of the drama.

The originality of setting would be restrained if it were not, however, for Movistar Plus’ financing muscle. “The Plague,” for example, is budgeted at €10 million ($12 million) for six episodes, three times Spanish series’ average cost.

Movistar Plus also brings Spain to the table in other ways. There’s the above-the-line talent.

“Movistar Plus has a real ambition to spend the necessary time and budget to develop ambitious fiction series and work with the best Spanish talent,” says Guilbart.

Three of the last five Goya-winning best picture directors, Alberto Rodríguez (“The Peste”), Cesc Gay (“Felix”) and Enrique Urbizu (“Gigantes”) are making Movistar Plus series. “Velvet Collection” is produced with Bambu Prods., part-owned by Studiocanal and the shingle behind Spain’s first Netflix original series, “Las chicas del cable.” Jorge and Alberto Sánchez-Cabezudo, makers of Spain’s “Crematorium,” a seminal pay TV series, are “La Zona’s” co-creators.

Movistar Plus is at the vanguard of what looks like a Spanish TV renaissance.

For Jan Mojto at Beta, one of Europe’s biggest independent TV companies, Spain now has the track record, ambitions and international sensibilities to become one of the most exciting national TV industries in Europe.

“We have seen a Swedish TV phenomenon, now there’s a Spanish one,” he says. Even before Movistar Plus’ slate launch, Spanish TV had already seen large successes, he says, citing Beta’s 100-territory plus sales on “Gran Hotel.”

“Another interesting thing about Movistar Plus series is their mix of genre,” Mojto continues, calling “La Zona” “a family drama and thriller with horror elements.” The more its taps genres, the broader a series’ appeal, he says.

And like other European drama series, Movistar Plus is tapping into the facts that these European hit series are still decidedly “about something, have a sense,” says Mojto, like so many of recent hit border-crossing skeins; think “Gomorrah,” “Borgen,” “The Young Pope,” “Midnight Sun” and “Babylon Berlin.”

As “The Plague’s” singular sleuth, a heretic employed by the Inquisition, traipses the back alleys, brothels, palaces, hovels, markets and marshes of 1580 Seville, he begins to compose a damning prognosis of a 16th century Seville and “social traits existing then which remain today,” Calleja says.

Movistar Plus series are meant to entertain. But audiences increasingly look to learn something about the world from top foreign-language fare.

More TV

  • Beyonce-HOMECOMING-Netflix

    Beyoncé, Sara Bareilles Vie for First Emmys as Ramin Djawadi Looks to Reclaim Throne

    Beyoncé and Sara Bareilles could add Emmy trophies to their awards shelves this year, having been nominated in key music categories Tuesday by the Television Academy. Beyoncé’s “Homecoming” special on Netflix was nominated in six categories, and four of those include a nod for the pop superstar herself. Only one of those is in a [...]

  • Disney Content Sales President Janice Marinelli

    Disney Content Sales President Janice Marinelli to Depart

    Janice Marinelli, president of global sales and marketing at Walt Disney’s direct-to-consumer and international segment, said Tuesday that she would step down from her role after a 34-year career at the company. “It has been an honor to work for this company and a privilege to work with so many outstanding professionals,” said Marinelli in [...]

  • Dusty Slay

    Late-Night Bookers Take to the Internet in Search of Emerging Comics

    With Netflix releasing a comedy special every week and YouTube offering a portal into both cutting-edge performance and the best comedy sets in history, it’s never been easier for audiences to access an endless stream of standup. But for fledgling comics, there’s still no more game-changing showcase than a five-minute slot on a late-night talk [...]

  • CBS HEADQUARTERS

    CBS Warns DirecTV, AT&T U-Verse May Drop Network

    Some of CBS Corp.’s biggest stations and its flagship network could be dropped from AT&T’s various cable and satellite services if a carriage agreement between the companies is not reached by July 19. “CBS has reached timely, fair agreements with hundreds of other cable, satellite, telco and internet providers to carry our industry-leading, fan-favorite programming,”  [...]

  • Billy Porter, 2019 Oscars Gown, Actors

    Watch Emilia Clarke, Billy Porter and More 2019 Emmy Nominees on Variety's 'Actors on Actors'

    What did Emmy nominee Billy Porter from “Pose” learn about women from co-nominee Rachel Brosnahan on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel?” What does Michael Douglas respect the most about Benicio del Toro’s acting ability? And how does Maya Rudolph’s recent meditations on the afterlife in the “The Good Place” coincide with the conversations Natasha Lyonne’s thoughts [...]

  • Russian Doll

    2019 Emmy Nominations Did Right by a Great Year in Comedy (Column)

    Even before the 2019 Emmy nominations were announced, the biggest and most obvious story belonged to the fact that last year’s drama nominees almost completely cleared the way for the final season of “Game of Thrones.” But for as weak as the drama categories are overall (give or take a “Pose”), the comedy categories have [...]

  • Big Little Lies Stranger Things

    Here's Why 'Big Little Lies' and 'Stranger Things' Weren't Nominated for 2019 Emmys

    Meryl Streep joined “Big Little Lies” this season, and “Stranger Things” broke a Netflix record — so why didn’t either show score an Emmy nomination? Every year, critically acclaimed and fan-favorite shows are noticeably omitted from the Emmy nominations, but not because they were snubbed. It’s because they’re not eligible.  This year, ineligible series include [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content