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Latin American TV Sees Burst of Activity

Galvanized by Netflix, whose Ted Sarandos has confirmed 50 original Latin American productions and branded licensed productions in development through 2018, the dramatic makeover in high-end Latin American TV production is moving up a gear.

One of the growth drivers of the Latin American new wave is “investments and co-productions from international groups,” says Bertrand Villegas, co-founder of the Wit.

Hollywood studios driving much of the change in Latin America’s television landscape include HBO, Fox, Sony, Disney, Viacom via new acquisition Telefe, and Time Warner’s Turner. However, local TV players are getting in on the action, too.

OTT is blooming and SVOD penetration will nearly double by 2021, up to 31.1 million customers. Erik Brannon of research and analysis firm IHS Markit notes that this comes from Netflix-enabling 4MG in the last quarter of 2016 as well as continued growth in family entertainment spending. Hollywood studios need to protect their established pay-TV operations and want part of Latin America’s OTT cake.

Among the high-profile moves, Disney Media Distribution Latin America, BTF Media and TV Azteca bowed “El Cesar,” about the rise and fall of Mexican boxing legend Julio César Chávez, on Sept. 18 on Space.

Sony Pictures Entertainment is producing seven series between Colombia and Mexico, some of whose titles will be announced at Mipcom.

Other companies are diversifying: Fox into irreverent series “Run Coyote Run,” HBO into Mexican talk show “Chumel con Chumel Torres” and Brazil with “Greg News,” featuring Gregorio Duvivier.

Re-positioning themselves as production factories, not just distribution outlets, Latin America’s network TV giants — Globo, Televisa, TV Azteca, Telefe — are energetically overhauling drama production.

Brazil’s Globo has launched a social drama production line with penitentiary-set thriller “Jailers,” a Mip Drama Screenings Grand Jury Prize winner, and now
“Under Pressure.” It also plans a Brazilian “Roots,” says Guel Arraes, Globo chief content officer for series.

Once only creating in-house, Mexico’s Televisa has now opened up to foreign formats. Sourced from South Korea, “My Husband Got a Family” has proved its No. 1 summer hit, edging out “En Tierras Salvajes,” which was based on scripts from “Velvet” producer Bambu in Spain.

Under CEO Benjamín Salinas, TV Azteca is attempting a re-invention, pushing into big bio-series and socially relevant dramas such as its Mipcom flagship, the surrogate mother-themed “Bad Maids.”

The biggest change in recent years, however, may be in distribution, says “Sandro de America” producer Juan Parodi of Argentina’s the Magic Eye.

“The OTT revolution has hit fiction ratings and also TV ad revenues, while raising production costs as TV networks compete with Netflix and Amazon,” says Manuel Marti of Argentina’s Pol-ka.

This results in networks sharing the costs, as well as the risks, of more ambitious TV fiction. In Argentina, for example, TNT and Argentine cabler Cablevisión co-produced “The Cockfighter,” which was first broadcast on Telefe before airing a day later on TNT. Cablevisión offered the complete season of the show after the first episode. Meanwhile, TV network Artear, TNT and Flow have distributed Pol-ka’s “The Fragility of Bodies” and “El Maestro.”

The Magic Eye’s Parodi says such partnerships were unthinkable a few years ago.

So far, the drive into high-end drama has seen select but noteworthy successes.

“Under Pressure” punched 27.5 rating points for its first eight episodes in a late primetime slot which normally averages around 20, according to the Wit’s Villegas.

Highly cinematic, HBO Latin America original “El Jardín de Bronce,” which bowed out after eight episodes Aug. 13, was hailed by the network as its most-watched Latin American series of the year.

As Latin America ventures into higher-end series, its export possibilities increase in major western markets, with the global market a final frontier. Fox Networks Group Latin America is “pushing the limits a bit more into putting these shows outside Latin America,” says Edgar Spielmann, COO, Fox Networks Group, Latin America. “Our next challenge is how we can export, go beyond what we have done here.”

“The Bronze Garden” received HBO’s biggest, near-simultaneous roll-out ever for an HBO Latin America series, bowing June 25 on Latin America’s HBO and HBO Go, on HBO Nordic and HBO España starting June 26 and on HBO Latino in the U.S. beginning June 30.

“Bowing simultaneously in over 50 countries generates huge curiosity,” says Roberto Rios, HBO Latin America corporate VP, original production. “People want to know what’s happening globally, and this creates an emotional connection with the project.”

Whatever the results for Latin America’s new push into high-end limited episode fare, there’s no turning back.

After 2014’s “Pablo Escobar,” which sold to more than 50 countries, including untapped territories in Africa and Asia, “audiences knew we were capable of doing great things so we can’t go back to doing the old-style series,” says Lisette Osorio, Caracol Intl. sales chief.

Challenges remain, of course. “For 60 years, Latin America only made telenovelas,” says Telemundo Intl. Studios’ Marcos Santana. “There are few writers, directors and DPs schooled in creating American-style mini-series. We’re starting from scratch.”

But for Globo’s Arraes, who sums up the mood of the new landscape, “it’s challenging, but exciting.”

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