CANNES — These days, six months is a long time in Latin American TV. Last April,Tomás Yankelevich, EVP and chief content officer, general entertainment, Turner Latin America, took Variety through the main paradigm shifts in the market and at Turner. For Mipcom, he delivered an update on the ever-evolving priorities at one of the region’s pacemakers in terms of original production and preparation for an ever-more digital age.
His comments came as Turner Latin America has revealed that a year after a creating a new comprehensive production department to develop contents for its own general entertainment brands, its broadcast TV network Chilevisión, and for other TV companies, from July 2017 through to early October, Turner Latin America has produced over 700 hours of general entertainment and fiction, for its own brands and for third parties. In an interview, Yankelevich drills down on Turner Latin America’s thorough-going transformation from distributors and packagers to comprehensive content production company, from its ramp up in original production, care for core business, volume and scale, skinny bundles, frenemy digital platforms and third-party production:
Last time we talked, before MipTV, you spoke about ramping up series production in Latin America. Are you still on track?
We used to acquire and look for content that was compelling. Now we own it because we create or co-produce it. Turner Latin America produced five-to-six Latin American original series in 2017. Counting just 100% IP-owned productions, that number could be around to 12 to 15 by 2021. Including licensed or minority co-production series – and audience sees these productions as our originals – we are way over 15. Only in Mexico, we have this year “El Secreto de Selena,” “Falco,” “Rosario Tijeras” and our original “I Demand Your Mask.” We have an audience eager for [original content] that probably wasn’t watching TNT. In the case of Mexico, “Rosario Tijeras” has opened up the possibility of screening different content that we didn’t screen before.
You’ve talked to me before about the importance of companies still caring for their core business, but at the same time developing an offer which can play in a more digital and premium environment…..
That is still the aim. In Brazil, we moved sports content, such as rights in Brazil to the European Champions League and Nations League, from Esporte Interativo to our main legacy channels, TNT and Space. The good thing is that now in Brazil the audience is starting to get used to not only seeing movies, but also sports content. The pay tv business is still strong. Turner Latin America is the region’s No. 1 pay TV player by market share. If you have channels in the top 10, you can make 40% of your revenues from ad sales, and TNT, Space and Warner Channel ranked as three most-watched channels in Latin America over Sept. 7-13.
This strategy also looks towards the future…
We know that sooner or later, more sooner than later, Latin America will begin to see skinny bundle offers, 40 channels instead of 300, with customers paying less. We have great Hollywood content, but we need to have our own exclusive content, have non-scripted entertainment as well.
But at the same time you are looking to co-produce…
We have so many channels that we need volume and scale. We will always be looking for partners to co-produce. If not, we won’t have enough volume. We don’t have the budget to finance everything. So we find different options for different territories. We could be first window in one territory, then second window, waiting for a 18 month holdback, in another one.
And how do you achieve scale?
With scale, the challenge is this: If you produce in Argentina, you might only be successful in Argentina and probably Uruguay, and that’s could be it. Whenever you produce something in Mexico and you screen it in Chile, in Argentina, the content, even though it could be a great content, audiences don’t feel that it’s local. The only content that is relevant [across multiple borders] is U.S. movies. We have to produce more and content that has more scale. It’s not going to feel local but it’s going to be original and exclusive. So we’re mixing things up. We’re planning to produce in English for Latin America U.S.. movies that have really compelling and great stories.
Turner has sold Brazilian Space original “Pacto de Sangre” to Netflix for the rest of Latin America. What is your strategy towards the major digital platforms?
Things are moving so fast. Two years ago, there were almost no digital platforms. Nowadays, you have two-or-three that are really strong within a market that is growing. Probably within a short time, we’re going to have five or six. For us, the focus of that specific content, “Pacto de Sangre,” is Brazil. If a property’s really impressive for a territory ,and we want to find a marketing effect, we may keep it 100% for ourselves. In another territory, if it’s better to sell it, let’s sell it, if it’s better to have regional partner. But if we close deals with OTT platforms, we have to be aware that in the near future they could be our competitors. Meanwhile they’re frenemies. To be ready, we need to be able to generate compelling product that can get to audiences’ hearts.
You have also initiated production for third parties…
Our production company, which started a year ago, is already producing more than 500 hours of content this year, just for third parties. We produced “Pasapalabra” for Argentina’s Canal 13, “Primera Cita” for Telefe. We’re going to start producing in Mexico and Colombia and Peru as well. Once we have a hit, we can always share it and screen it on our pay TV ecosystem as well. But if we try to produce it for ourselves, instead of having 8 or 10 shows in the region we would probably have one or two. We also produce shows that are a little bit smaller budget-wise like this year with “Privet Rusia,” where we sent [“Pasapalabra” host] Ivan de Pineda to World Cup locations in Russia. It’s content that is really good for the audience and works very well for brands. Regarding sports, we have TNT Sports in Argentina, we have Esporte Interativo Digital in Brazil, which is huge, and in Chile we bought Canal del Futbol, but we are still waiting for regulatory approval. We are also going to have soccer screening on Chilevision because we also bought the rights for the classifiers for La Roja, the national team.