Telefonica’s Movistar + New Head Sergio Oslé on First Series Results, Cinema, Engaging Audiences (EXCLUSIVE)

The new head of audiovisual at Spain’s Telefonica sketches out some priorities on his roadmap

Movistar + Head Sergio Oslé on First Series Results, Film, Engagement
Movistar+ / Enrique Cidoncha

MADRID — The office of Sergio Oslé, the new head of film and TV at Spain’s Telefonica, one of Europe’s biggest telecoms, sports a dazzling red-toned painting of a bowl of fruit. Otherwise the walls are bare.

“I must put something of my own up on the walls,” Oslé jokes. He might not have the time. A Stanford U alum and longtime McKinsey director, Oslé joined Telefonica on Nov. 1 as head of audiovisual and video  Spain, just as Telefonica’s pay TV unit Movistar + , which he oversees, was seeing the first results from its first three original series, which mark the biggest bet on scripted content of any telco in Europe.

More than 80% of the series’ consumption is on-demand, Oslé said. So final numbers still have to come in. Results to date are on track, however, to place the trio in the top five of most-watched series ever on Movistar +, Spain’s by-far biggest pay TV operator whose line-up includes “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead.”

Moreover, “their positions will not be No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 either,” Oslé added.

“Velvet Collection,” the first high-end Movistar + original series made available to clients, became the most-seen series ever to screen on the Movistar + platform, based on the results of its first two episodes, aired Sept. 22 and Oct. 1, Movistar + announced on Oct. 6. Results on the other two first series – “The Zone,” Jorge Sánchez-Cabezudo’s post-nuclear reactor meltdown murder mystery, launched on Oct. ; “Spanish Shame,” a cringeworthy Spanish couple comedy, made available for binging from Nov. 3 – had not been known.

Movistar + was “almost, almost surprised by such a positive answer to the series,” Oslé said.

The upbeat reception, he added, gives Telefonica the momentum to “explore other paths” which will shape the telco’s roadmap for the immediate future, while questioning current returns on La Liga soccer match transmissions.

Some of its key parameters are already known. One, though it falls outside Oslé’s direct remit, is Latin America.

Fox Networks Group Latin America announced in mid-December that it was co-developing two series with Movistar +: “Santa Evita,” based on a best-seller by Tomás Eloy Martínez, about the near surreal trans-Atlantic odyssey of Eva Peron’s embalmed corpse, over 26 years; and “Santa Maria,” a series described as a religious thriller, from an original idea by Pablo Larraín (“Neruda,” “Jackie”), at Chile’s Fabula.

Movistar + is “working for a far stronger union with regards to content” with Telefonica’s Latin American operations,” Oslé said.

He added that part of the bet on distinctive content is “our colleagues in Latin America taking larger advantage of content generated in Spain.

“We’re very interesting in seeing how our original series in Spain work in Latin America. Our colleagues think they can do very well, given cultural similarities, and an interest in their subjects.”

Then there’s cinema. Bowing September 2013, Telefonica Studios, Movistar +’s first production unit, took minority equity positions in 10 films in 2015, a similar figure in 2016.

“Cinema’s important. It allows for things that series won’t give you like getting close to talent which feels more comfortable making movies,” said Oslé.

But, if it boards a movie. Movistar + won’t simply limit itself to putting up the money.

“I really obsessed in finding what can mark us apart in the creation of original movies. It’s not so much finding out what we want to do but how,” Osle said. That said, a first big Movistar + movie may well be announced later this year.

“What we have learnt from our original content will give us the confidence to move into other entertainment spaces, beyond cinema,” Oslé said. An inkling of what this could mean came Jan. 4 when Movistar + announced it had bought Spanish reversion rights to celeb jogging talkshow “The Running Game,” to air on Movistar + channel #0.

In the U.K., Sky and BT bosses have complained about the punitive costs of securing Premiere League soccer rights. Movistar + has La Liga soccer rights through to the end of the 2019-20 season. But with a new auction of La Liga rights scheduled for February, Oslé expresses similar caveats about their value: “Soccer is attractive and interests us, but not at any price.”

“Clients demand much more than soccer. We can’t let this dependency affect other elements,” he added, pointing out that 100% of the episodes of our [original] series have views and audiences above those of a good game involving either top clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Whatever the auction’s outcome, Oslé is looking to generate a larger passion for other sports on Movistar +, he said. “It has to do with democratizing access to the sports, and how we produce and offer them and generate a star system.”

But Movistar +’s largest goal goes beyond individual programming choices to becoming what Oslé’s calls “Spanish households’ entertainment/communication axis.” That may already be happening.

Explanations for Movistar +’s early success cut various ways. Spanish shows dominate local free-to-air primetime to the near exclusion of their U.S. counterparts. English-language series dominate on-demand entertainment in most territories in Europe. Not so Spain. Even before Movistar + launched its first series, Spanish-language shows took half of the Top 10 slots on a Television Business International survey, compiled by Parrot Analytics.

Targeting multiple distinct audiences, Movistar + shows appeal in their totality to a broad demography. But, according to a Eurodata study, over September 2016 to June 2017, scripted programming on average accounted for 35% of TV consumption for millennials across Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the U.K. and U.S. That figure peaks at 53%, the highest of any country, when it comes to Spain. In Spanish millennials, Movistar + has a ready audience for its series.

Movistar + early series have tapped Spain’s very top – and most reliable – TV creators, such as Ramon Campos and Teresa Fernández Valdés at Bambu Productions, creators of Netflix’s first Spanish TV series, “Las Chicas del Cable,” and Jorge and Alberto Sánchez-Cabezudo, the talent behind “Crematorium,” one of Spain’s very rare premium pay TV series before the launch of Movistar +.

Doing do, Movistar + has begin to offer Spain series which push the envelope on production values and subjects captured on the small screen. Played by Javier Gutiérrez, the priapic husband in “Spanish Shame” is a tour-de-force portrait of Spanish foibles, from an unshakeable conviction in his unappreciated genius to sexism, racism and a self-centeredness approaching pathology.

The real novelty for Spain is not just that Movistar + has begun to make such high-end series but that it is doing so at a volume and regularity never seen before in the country, creating a new TV phenomenon exclusive to Movistar + which many Spaniards want to feel part of. The key here, Oslé said, is “engagement.”

“We don’t need Movistar + families to have all watched all three series. What we need is for them to feel a certain engagement with the series’ offer at large and early results suggest that there is a large sense of affinity,” Oslé said.

In this context, the series form just part of Movistar +’s attempt to offer clients a new consumer lifestyle based on Movistar +’s entertainment-communications hub.

Movistar + can offer multi-screen viewing or the launch-and-see transfer of programs subscribers are watching from tablet and mobile to television. “Another potential growth area is using advanced data algorithms (like machine learning) to offer entertainment that is best suited for each customer- from as early on as concept development. We’re already using feedback from our usage data to improve our content creation process,” Oslé said.

Some new TV functions have already caught on, and surprisingly quickly, such as seven-day catch-up.

Oslé recalled: “People outside Movistar + said that it was very complicated, people wouldn’t use it. Now over 70% of our subscribers use it and our demography’s very broad, not just millennials.”

Receiving Variety’s 2016 Achievement in International Television Award, Sky chief executive Jeremy Darroch observed that Sky Atlantic, Sky’ high-end drama/documentary channel, was regularly quoted as one of the top two reasons to ever join or stay with Sky.

Now, said Oslé, “everything’s important.” “I’d say, with all humility, that we produce among the best contents for this market, whether live events, or scripted and other exclusive contents and that we offer the best way to consume these contents.”

Movistar +’s stellar first original series are just part of a larger revolution.

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Movistar+ / Enrique Cidoncha