MipCancun: 15 Takes on 2017’s Edition

The 4th Latin American TV market rolls off the new energies and interest of the region’s booming and ever more internationally-skewed production

Sob Pressão foto oficial
Mauricio Fidalgo

CANCUN, Mexico — The 4th MipCancun unspooled Nov. 15-17 in the Sunrise quarter of a beachside hotel. That name could stand metaphor for the Latin America’s independent TV production sector at large and for MipCancun itself, as attendance soared to over 700 delegates, boosted by a co-production strand which looks like representing much of the meeting’s future. 15 points on this year’s meet, which caught the industry on a dramatic upturn.


MipCancun’s defining energy, playing out in multiple iterations and sweeping MipCancun, was Hollywood – studios, big and boutique indies – and Latin America’s top TV players – broadcasters, producers – thrashing out the co-production, co-financing and distribution, here by the former, of ambitious TV dramas, rooted in Latin American realities but made for the world. Just two-or-three examples: “Narcos” producer Gaumont TV started “at the beginning of the year” to become co-producers and partners of series from Latin America and Canada, said Robby Amar.“This is a new fresh thing for us and exciting,” he added. Also in 2017, the then IM Global launched Mundial TV as a “Swiss army knife” offering “creative partnership, financing investors and distribution” to Mundial’s film partners now driving into TV, said Global Road Ent.’s Eli Shibley. Also this year, Electus created Electus Latino to reversion its formats and IPs in Latin America and also create original IPs from the region.


There’s “a trend in Latin American content, possibly being driven by streamers and HBO and the pay TV set, towards creating higher-end, more-serialized content impactful over 10 episodes as opposed to the super-series or telenovelas,” said Global Road’s Shibley. Reactions at MipCancun were generally highly positive. “The global market has meant that it’s no longer so risky to produce TV series,” said showrunner-writer David Greenwalt (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel”) at one of MipCancun’s keynote conversations, where he spoke with The Gersh Agency’s Roy Ashton. Greenwalt added that the global market had turned “Grimm,” which ran for getting on six years through to this March on NBC primetime, into a profitable show broadcast in 200 territories. Being at MipCancun had energized him into thinking beyond “Grimm,” he added. “Two years ago there were some good products that really stood out at MipCancun,” added Ashton at the keynote. “At this market, there are more shows that I am excited about, that we want to represent not only in the U.S. but other parts of the world. Latin America is waking up,” he added.  “This is the co-production and sharing windows era, perfect timing for Latin America not only for the region but because of the appetite in the U.S. and around the world for Hispanic- driven content,” concurred All3Media Intl.’s Sally Habbershaw.


How can established players battle digital disruption? One way is by driving into local production, A & E Networks Edward Sabin said in a second keynote. According to Enders Analysis, TV imports lost more than half their audiences on British free-to-air channels over 2011-16. “20-30 years ago, any primetime schedule would have ‘The Simpsons,’ all American shows. Now those shows are scheduled in different parts of the day, even in late night,” Sabin pointed out. To get a piece of primetime action, foreign companies “have  to be speaking more compellingly to those local markets,” he added.

So A & E is “putting more focus on developing and producing local content and looking into investment and ownership of local companies to help serve that pipeline,” Sabin confirmed. And if you can’t beat them…. At one and the same time, A & E is looking to replicate its Singapore digital studio, which makes digital content, in other parts of the world. Knowing which local markets and companies to invest in is of course just part if the complex if exciting international TV business.


The questions is by how much. Different companies have contrasting takes. “Telenovelas are still the most consumed content in Mexico and some other Latin American countries,” said Televisa’s Mario Muñoz Huerta, and Televisa will continue producing telenovelas, but “with a lot more happening, the audience needs constant stimuli.” 38% of all new scripted content launched in Latin America in 2017 were telenovelas, vs. 11% worldwide, according to a The Wit presentation. But some TV networks are taking exception to at least traditional 120-episode-plus telenovelas. In Brazil, “there’s still a lot of space for telenovelas,” said Tiago Mello, at Brazil’s Boutique Filmes, producer of Netflix’s original series “3%.” But, notably, early evening novelas are now generally outperforming later night primetime titles, and Globo is creating a growth business in limited episode social dramas such as “Under Pressure” (pictured), screened to an upbeat reaction at MipCancun. TV Azteca is dropping novelas from 240 or 120 episodes to just 80. Their scenes no longer last 5 to 10 minutes, said TV Azteca’s Ana Celia Urquidi. Telenovelas could become niche product, predicted Disney Media Distribution’s Fernando Barbosa at a MipCancun panel.


In Turkish hit “Tales of Innocence,” a young woman goes to jail for her lover’s crime. In ITV’s “Liar,” another fall succes, a woman tries to prove that a man, a reputable doctor, raped her. In Holland’s “Good Time Girl,” a husband cheats on his wife: She hits back, becoming a call girl.  As suggested by The Wit’s first MipCancun presentation, Fresh TV From Around the World, major hits around the world forefront women’s battle against gender abuse. TV still has enormous catch-up to go though. “Many times, the women on our screens are 15 years behind the times, women thought up by men,” said Daniel Burman, presenting Oficina Burman’s partnership with Mediapro. But with so many women’s victimhood titles coming onto the market, there is a question of how many audiences will take. Producers are already shying away from describing shows just about women’s empowerment drama. One, whose current production features four women, said he will put men at the center of his next drama.


Presenting a Fresh TV Latam session, The Wit’s Virginia Mouseler highlighted Latin America hits, many off the radar in international: Televisa’s challenged modern couple comedy “My Husband Got a Family”; romantic comedy “Las Estrellas,” on Argentina’s El Trece; priest’s sinful passion melodrama “Perdona Nuestros Pecados,” from Chile’s Mega; “Colorina,” from Peru’s America TV, retreading an ‘80s Mexican format; and “The Goddess,” from Colombia’s Caracol, about the unhappy-in-love Vallenato singer Patricia Teheran.

Mousseler also served up a snapshot underscoring Latin American production singularities. Latin America is an El Dorado of local scripted content, whose launches represented 39% of all new show bows in 2016 vs. 25% worldwide. Bioseries account for 9% of all new local scripted content in Latin America this year vs 0.2% worldwide. In non-scripted, adventure and physical challenge shows made up 7% of new local entertainment and game shows in 2017 vs. 5% in the rest of the world.


Winner, hands down, of the most entertaining presentation at MipCancun 2017 was the Mediapro/Oficina Burman’s Case Study on Production Partnerships, with Daniel Burman and Mediapro’s Laura Fernández Espeso talking audiences through their company alliance, sealed when Mediapro took a significant stake in Burman Office just this February. A leading light of the New Argentine Cinema (“Lost Embrace”) who is currently show-running Netflix’s first Argentine original series, “Edha,” Burman has spent much of his career teasing out the paradoxes of love. “Stroke” falls into his wheelhouse, weighing in as a comedy about a middle-aged man who “confuses love with necessity, makes everyone around him need him, so he can believe he’s loved.” Suddenly struck down by a stroke, his paralysis actually benefits his family whose members begin to stand on their own two feet, and are all the better for it. Burman and Fernández Espeso also unveiled a trailer of “Iosi, el espía arrepentido,” which suggested the show combines newsreel, noirish visuals and period aesthetics. It tells the real-event-based espionage parable-thriller of a man dispatched by the Argentine secret service to infiltrate the Jewish community. Recruited by Mossad, he begins to feel Jewish, despite still working for the Argentine police. “We are all converts at one time in our lives, and infiltrators, and finally find a mission in life,” Burman said, calling “Iosi” an “espionage-conspiracy thriller with strong romance and comedy beats.” Burman is developing “Iosi” with Mediapro’s Ran Tellem, a Primetime Emmy winning producer on “Homeland.”


Companies are just beginning to ring the options. In their home territories, established broadcasters are tied to their brands, and domestic regulation. That limits their programming options. But incumbents can also take equity on shows which they will not air, building asset value. That looks like a growing opportunity.


Once upon a time, Latin America’s TV landscape was dominated by domestic broadcast network giants that largely produced in-house. Those days are now over. “We’re inviting you to co-create and co-produce with us,” said Mario Muñoz Huerta, at a half-hour Televisa drill-down on production and acquisition needs. That’s one Televisa sea-change. Another, is a return to basics – “our essence is making love stories in 80 episodes,” Muñoz Huerta said – but, he stressed, for an ever-evolving society. “Society has changed. When TV, in which Televisa is a pioneer, was invented, divorce was a tragedy, now it is an opportunity,” he said, adding that Televisa had to maintain its essence but with stories of “illusion, modern romance and modern characteristics.” Muñoz Huerta did not rule out Televisa’s producing bi-lingual series aimed via Univision at a U.S. market where Hispanics “work in English, think in English but feel in Spanish and at home speak Spanish to their children who don’t speak it but understand it perfectly.”


It’s symptomatic of the times that the second sponsor at a Latin American TV market was a Turkish company, Inter Medya. 2017 MipCancun showcased Inter Medya’s “Broken Wings,” which suggests some reasons why Turkish drama is cutting swathes in international markets. If this is telenovela, it’s a telenovela on speed. If it’s a social drama issue, it’s pedal to the metal, beginning with a single mother of four hunting for food scraps on the pavements of a street market. Then her predicament gets much, much worse. Kanal D’s shows are sold to 150-plus markets, said Nilufer Kuyel. Kanal D is now looking to partner with Latin American producer on 10-hour mini dramas, with Turkish DNA but more global narrative,” and not aimed for broadcast on Kanal D, she said. “We are already in contact with producers and broadcasters here in the region for co-development and co-production,” she added. Kanal D has a co-development deal with Chile’s Mega.


Electus Latino is teaming with Mattel to remake “Toy Box” in the region. That’s a powerful brand partner on a show which looks like a slam dunk for re-versioning, appealing to Latin America’s huge kids and family demography. “When you have that commitment, it opens a lot of doors with broadcasters and production partners and you can work with local brands for distribution,” Electus Latino’s Paulette Bensussen commented. Latin American brands are indeed increasingly coming to the table as show partners. Discovery Communications “has done a lot of co-production in the last three years with commercial brands” in Latin America,” said Michela Giorgelli. She added: “A lot are interested in doing things organically, don’t always want explicit integration.”


“You read the first five pages of a script, it has to grab you by the throat and not let go until you finish. We have this five-point criteria. A story has to be creative, compelling, and believable. That’s on top of organic, when characters speak to one another. Also, is there a cast attached that makes a series more interesting? And evidently the story itself: Is it a book? Short story? Another movie?” said Gaumont TV’s Amar.


Just how far TV is transforming Latin America’s content industries is seen by three examples: Mexico’s Lemon Films, Brazil’s Prodigo Films and Chile’s Fabula. 10 year’s ago, Lemon Films had caught attention making two movies – 2004’s “Matando Cabos,” 2006’s “Km. 31” – which twinned the pace and narrative formats of U.S. entertainment with Mexican social/fantasy referents. But today is it up for an Intl. Emmy for HBO Latin America’s longest-running TV show, “Sr. Avila.” In Brazil, Prodigo was just developing it’s first film script. In 2017, it has just snagged its first Netflix original series commission, “Coisa Mais Linda.” At Fabula, at 2008’s Berlin, Pablo Larrain, then almost unknown, pitched a rough-cut of his second movie, – and international breakthrough – “Tony Manero.” Today, Fabula is in production on the first movie made out of its U.S. offices, a remake of “Gloria,” starring Julianne Moore, as it advances on its first international scripted series, “Gloria” and “Ni una menos.” For Fabula, TV offers its creators another way to tell stories, and  another revenue stream. “In the last couple of years television has exploded. We gone from doing four hours of movies annually in a good year to 200 hours of content this year,” said Lemon’s Billy Rovzar “The more you do the better you get at doing more. And that is very very exciting. It’s a great time to be alive,” he added summing up the feeling of many Latin American film-TV producers at MipCancun.


In some territories – France, U.K., Brazil – independent producer rights retention is ensured by regulation. It others – Germany, Italy, Spain – broadcasters have tended to retain 100% of TV show rights. That is one reason why international co-production is so attractive, opening up the possibility to independent producers of retaining more rights to the shows they produce. The new glocal TV business is still in flux. “There are no set rules at this point,” said Gaumont TV’s Amar. Fabula has set up a U.S. business, currently focused on film, in part to offer international moviemakers the chance of keeping some rights to their business. Rights is a point of contention, but a potential leverage for more flexible global companies to attract Latin American talent.


“Companies were invented by accountants, it’s people who meet and sign contracts,” Burman (half) joked. To forge a new and sustainable TV landscape in Latin America, TV executives need to meet face-to-face. For Latin American buyers, who don’t always travel to Mipcom and MipTV, MipCancun falls conveniently half way between the L.A. Screenings and Natpe.  “MipCancun is a highly efficient market. Sellers and buyers have meetings scheduled by the organization. You don’t lose time looking for a stand,” said Andrés Rico Payá, at TV Azteca Intl., the main Cancún sponsor. For potential co-producers in what is very much a new business sector, it was also a massive and highly convenient networking event, and still needs to be. “Business is evolving so rapidly that you just don’t know where you’ll find the next opportunity,” Rico Payá added.