The winds of revolution are blowing through Latin American TV. Facing increasing competition from Netflix, and depleting telenovela audiences, the region’s giants, from Telemundo to Telefe, Globo and Televisa, are eager to capitalize on the huge demand for high-end Latino drama by pursuing other production initiatives. Arguably, Latin American TV has never been so exciting.

Some major examples: At Globo, chief creative officer Guel Arraes talks of a new age of drama. Globo is “trying to emulate international standards, themes, story lines, concentrations of ideas and number of episodes,” he says. Arraes cites a burgeoning production line in action, reality-based productions such as “Jailers,” selected for MipDrama Screenings, and “Under Pressure,” a hospital series; “City of Men,” will also have a follow-up.

Telemundo no longer makes telenovelas, just long series and miniseries, says Marcos Santana of Telemundo Intl. He hopes Telemundo Intl. Studios — a shingle announced at Mipcom that will produce high-end, short-format scripted series in Spanish starring Hollywood Latino talent — will produce two 10-15 segment series before the summer.

“As a broadcaster, our focus is on family audiences; as a producer we are betting on raising the bar, creating and investing in edgier projects [that] complement our [other offerings] and position us in the world,” says Guillermo Borensztein, Telefe’s head of international business. He cites a focus on “super-series, with romantic thriller tropes, a lot of drama and action underscoring a strong love story” such as “Love After Loving.”

The drivers for change are relatively clear.

“The internet has meant a gigantic change in how we communicate [as well as ] consume TV,” Santana says. “People are their own programmers; telenovela audiences are increasingly limited, a niche for adults; spectators are looking for shorter, more impactful, better-quality programs; audiences want series that are ‘different.’”

Netflix launched in Latin America in September 2011, four months before the U.K. and three years before France and Germany. Of Netflix’s 82 international series, 15 are in Spanish, just five in German and four in French, says a recent IHS Technology report.

Free-to-air TV operators have evolved from being solely single channel broadcasters into content producers as well.

“People have seen how well high-ends drama sells,” says Tim Westcott at IHS Technology. “There has been a focus on producing similar high-profile series.”
Latin American producers have taken note, mostly ditching the 200-episode orders and coming to MipDrama Screenings with such fare as Globo’s “Jailers,” with 12 episodes, Televisa’s Blim-produced “Diablo Guardian” at just 10.

Latin America’s series are also often more action-packed, with noirish touches (“Love After Loving”), or thrillers (Televisa’s “Sincronia”).

“The trend with Latin American series is to be less and less typically Latin American in the form, but to keep something in the subject,” says Bertrand Villegas of research agency The Wit. (The Wit’s Virginia Mouseler will showcase excerpts from new Latin American series in a MipDrama Latam Screenings on April 3.)
Pioneered by Telemundo’s “The Queen of the South,” narco-novelas are flourishing. Telemundo is working on the fifth season of “The Lord of the Skies.”

The narco novela is “seeing some evolution, especially in Mexico, broadening its focus on corruption of the justice system and politics, and now taking in women’s power,” Villegas notes, citing “Ingobernable” and Televisa’s wildly popular “La Candidata,” in which a successful senator begins to uncover her husband’s corrupt ways and challenge him to become Mexico’s next president.

“Key content trends are narco novelas, bio-series and shows focusing on women in a modern, contemporary context,” says Geraldine Gonard, director of Conecta Fiction, Spain’s first big TV forum.

Following Disney’s smash-hit Juan Gabriel bio “Until I Met You,” bio-series focus increasingly on big names, such as Fidel Castro (Fox Latin America’s “InFidel”), drug lord “Chapo” Guzman (Univision/Netflix’s “El Chapo”) and Hugo Chavez (“El Comandante,” a Sony/Telemundo series).

Just how series get made and seen is also fast evolving. “Jailers” may well be offered first for binging on Globo Play, its SVOD service, says Arraes.

International co-productuon is rising as well. “Our idea is to have more and more high-end drama of very high quality produced out of Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America via local production units and co-production,” Borensztein says.

“El Regreso de Lucas,” Telefe’s first super-series, co-produced with Peru’s America TV, was also its best pre-selling series.

“Making higher-cost series at a time when free-TV advertising is declining, you have to partner with other companies to share risks and reach more territories,” says Manuel Marti, Pol-ka director of international production, citing “La Fragilidad de los cuerpos,” produced by Pol-ka, TNT and Argentina’s Cablevision.

There is a sense of urgency to Latin America’s new fiction, while fresh challenges arise.

“The old paradigm of Latin American TV where producers and creators asked if people would understand what they were making no longer applies,” says Daniel Burman, creator of “Edha,” Netflix’s first Argentine series. “As creators, our challenge is to reach the refined tastes of our audiences.”

Latin American TV highlights at MIP:

A Carnival Affair (Caracol Intl., Colombia) A culture clash comedy finds a buttoned-up man traveling to the festive Caribbean coast to find his biological father.

The Cockfighter (TNT/Underground/Telefe, Cablevision, Argentina) A TV series comeback for New Argentine Cinema pioneer Bruno Stagnaro (“Pizza, Birra, Faso,”), he teams with Sebastian Ortega, showrunner on Netflix pickup “El Marginal,” on this 10-episode adventure thriller. Featured at The Wit’s 2017 MipDrama Latam Screenings.

Diablo Guardian (Televisa, Mexico) Adaptation of an iconic bestseller from Televisa streaming platform Blim, this coming-of-age tale is set against a Las Vegas world of prostitution and drugs.

Family Silence (Pol-ka, Argentina) Written by dramatist Javier Daulte and starring top Argentine comedian/TV exec Adrian Suar, this 20-episode romantic family dramedy turns on a love triangle firing up a jaded couple’s relationship.

Fangio: El Hombre que Domaba las Maquinas (Anima 7 Films/Incaa Argentina) Bio-series of Argentina’s five-time Formula 1 world champion Juan Manuel Fangio, to be directed by Argentina’s Rodrigo Villar.

Francisco the Mathematician (RCN, Colombia) A former pupil returns to his tough Bogota high school as a math teacher. A redo of a telenovela that ran from 1999-2004; showcased at the MipDrama Latam Screenings.

Guerra de Idolos (pictured, Telemundo, U.S.) NBC Universal Telemundo’s first original music drama series: A composer-producer unleashes a war against criminal gangs linked to the music business.

Iron Lady (TV Azteca, Mexico) Drama-action TV series in which a female judge, aka the Iron Prosecutor, battles a drug lord who has destroyed her family. Selected for the MipDrama Latam Screenings.

I Want to Be by Your Side (Pol-ka, Argentina) A self-sacrificing housewife is told she’s dying, and confesses her love to her best friend’s husband. Trouble is, her doctor got the diagnosis wrong in this comedy-tinged telenovela.

Jailers (Globo, Brazil) Globo’s newest bet to break into upscale short-format drama is a 12-segment penitentiary thriller; MipDrama Screenings’ only Latin American entry.

Above Justice (Globo) Another innovative play for higher-end audiences, this 20-episode drama relates four intertwining tales of injustice.

Love After Loving (Telefe) A romantic thriller spanning two time periods, “Love” is Telefe’s ratings and web phenom of 2017, averaging a 39.8% share since its January debut.

Love, Divina (Televisa/Pol-ka/Federation Kids & Family) A digital-age, pan-Latin American teen music drama stars tween/teen idol Laura Esquivel. Licensed to France Televisions and Italy’s Super!, and still selling.

Pequeña Orquesta Mastolfoni (Kapow/INCAA, Argentina) A tango and humor-laced family drama set in 1960s Argentina, backed by Argentina’s Incaa Film Institute.

The Promised Land (TV Record, Brazil) A sequel to the phenomenally successful TV Record biblical telenovela “The 10 Commandments,” with Joshua as its hero. Another Latam Screenings title at this year’s MIP.

La Querida del Centauro (Teleset/Sony Pictures TV/Telemundo). Ludwika Paleta is a prisoner who becomes a drug kingpin’s mistress. Renewed for a second, Mexico-shot, season.

Compiled by John Hopewell and Jamie Lang