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Mipcom: Sony Pictures Television, Dopamine Set Mary Magdalene Bio

Series marks first title from new Grupo Salinas high-end production label Dopamine

Mipcom: Sony Pictures Television, Dopamine Set

CANNES — Sony Pictures TV and Dopamine, the new high-end production label of Mexico’s Grupo Salinas, owner of TV Azteca, are teaming to produce a bio-drama on Mary Magdalene, in what they promise to be “one of the most ambitious series that have occurred in Spanish.”

María Fernanda Yepes (“La Piloto,” “Rosario Tijeras”) will play María Magdalene, Manolo Cardona (“Narcos”) will embody Jesus, and Andrés Parra (“Pablo Escobar: The Master of Evil”) will be Pedro.

Biblical bio “Mary Magdalene” is written by Lina Uribe (“Darling of the Centaur”), Darío Vanegas (“La Querida del Centauro”) and Jaqueline Vargas (“In Treatment”).

Executive produced by Daniel Ucros (“Blue Demon”) and Juan Pablo Posada (“Rosario Tijeras”), “Mary Magdalene” is the first titled announced by Dopamine which, capitalized at $200 million, is an independent company from the Grupo Salinas-owned TV Azteca with its own management, budget and sales team, TV Azteca CEO Benjamin Salinas said at a Mipcom Keynote Monday. Fidela Navarro will ankle as director of TV Azteca Intl. to become Dopamine CEO, he added.

Dopamine will drive into high-end content which is not necessarily for free-to-air market but also platforms. Shows will be made initially in Spanish, but Salinas did not rule-out English-language titles as well.

One rationale for Dopamine’s launch was “a far higher demand for quality content than supply,” Salinas said. Another, the potential of the U.S. Hispanic market. Dopamine will also allow Grupo Salinas to spend budgets which could not be justified just by the Mexican market.

“Dopamine is a case of Spanish-language localized globalization, the drive for original content and high-budget drama and the use of that for defining brand and presence to the world,” said Guy Bisson, at Ampere Analysis.

Dopamine also plans to make documentaries and movies and even children’s shows, production of which has driven to a near halt in Mexico because of regulation banning TV ads targeting children.

Promoted to TV Azteca CEO in Oct. 2015, Salinas has successfully effected something of a turn-around at the free-to-air Mexican network.

TV Azteca primetime share was 28% when he came in, but now 35%. This Salinas attributed in his Keynote to a corporate culture “where ideas simply weren’t flowing.” When he started, TV Azteca didn’t have one original series on the schedule, he recalled, everything being bought. That has now been fixed. Salinas has also controlled costs, and moved TV Azteca into programming closer to modern sensibilities, exploring themes such as women’s empowerment, seen in the narco-busting magistrate of “The Iron Lady,” and bio-novelas about iconic Mexican figures such as Juan Gabriel (“Until I Met You”) and César Chavez (“Soy César”).

“High-end series may raise costs but open up the opportunity of a lot more sharing of costs with partners,” said Bisson. “Until I Met You” and “Soy César” were both indeed made in co-production and co-financing deals, with Disney Media Distribution Latin America and BTF Media producing for TV Azteca and Telemundo.

Overseeing Dopamine, Salinas looks set to take it into high-end co-production. But, as TV Azteca CEO, he isn’t loosing the baby of free-to air TV advertising for any bathwater. During his Keynote, Salinas signaled that TV Azteca was using data analytics to guarantee consumers to advertisers.

“You hear about big data. Obviously Sky does a bit. But in terms of sort of guaranteeing a consumer is interested in your product on a free-to-air channel is pretty interesting,” Bisson said.