Along with Germany and Spain, Latin America is fast emerging as one of the biggest growth regions for high-end fiction in international, OTT, premium pay TV and co-productions.
OTT is experiencing a second-phase expansion. Netflix released its first Latin American original, “Club of Crows,” in August 2015. Two years later, it had 50 new or returning productions in various stages of development. That number has risen yet again. On Sept. 20, for instance, Netflix announced its 11th original to date in Brazil, supernatural thriller “Spectros.”
There are now other new kids on the digital block. In May, Amazon Prime Video’s first original series “Diablo Guardian,” produced with Televisa production unit TAO, bowed to critical acclaim.
“We are open for business. We are not trying to hit a specific volume,” says Pablo Iacoviello, Amazon Prime Video content director for Latin America.
Other series announced include Gabriel Ripstein’s political thriller “Un Extraño Enemigo,” set during Mexico’s 1968 student massacre; the biographical series “Maradona”; comedian talent contest “LOL: Last One Laughing,” featuring Eugenio Dérbez. Such series suggest a highly eclectic range.
“We have a broad customer base and are looking for creators all over the globe to offer a diverse set of content customers will love,” Iacoviello says.
YouTube Premium unveiled in early September its own first Spanish-language original, the Mexican comedy half-hour “Sobrevivi.” Facebook has bought Champions League soccer rights for Latin America. In March, Apple hired former Sony exec Angelica Guerra to create original series from the region.
“The entrance of VOD players has [altered] the expectation of consumption and the volume required now for consumption,” says Pierluigi Gazzolo, president of Viacom Intl. Media Networks Americas.
Also, he adds, you have advanced pay TV operators such as Cablevision that own OTT platforms and are looking to provide content.
The fever for higher-end content is playing out throughout the region, in established and new players alike.
Mexico produced just one drama series in 2014, but last year it produced 13, according to a Teleformat/Geca study. Meanwhile, Brazil’s TV sector hit full employment and it was getting hard to find top-notch TV crews by May.
“We’re seeing tremendous growth and great opportunities,” says Bruce Boren at THR3 Media Group.
One “challenge for us right now is simply trying to keep up with the needs for premium content across the region,” says Endemol Shine North America CEO Cris Abrego.
Most players, established and new, are ramping up production levels. Some examples: 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, says Tomas Yankelevich, EVP and chief content officer, General Entertainment, Turner Latin America.
In Argentina, having acquired top network Telefe in November 2016, Viacom has doubled the number of Telefe shows, both long and short form. The company is putting into development from four to eight, according to Gazzolo.
“We have been ramping up our production for the past five years,” says Roberto Rios, corporate VP, original productions, HBO Latin America, listing productions happening in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia.
The big question for established free-to-air players and independent production houses is how to face off with the new digital platforms. One battleground looks like talent.
“The marketplace is growing faster than the talent pool available, in Mexico at least. Obviously the biggest projects, the most interesting projects are going to get the talent,” says Boren.
Broadcaster ad revenues have fallen as pay TV, Google and Facebook take market share. Networks “no longer have the budgets to fully finance big fiction shows,” adds Manuel Martí at Argentina’s Pol-ka.
The result: Big groups are looking ever more to collaboration and co-production, says Conecta Fiction director Geraldine Gonard. She cites Argentine network Artear, TNT and Argentine Cablevision/Flow teaming for “The Lobbyist,” and Claro Video and Sony Pictures TV’s “El Rey del Valle.”
“There are ever more cases of co-production and co-distribution of new scripted series. It’s very expensive to make a good series, so companies share the risk,” says Bertrand Villegas, at the Wit.
Free-to-air players, including Brazil Globo, are pushing their own OTT offers. “Jailers,” its Cannes-prized series, premiered on Globoplay, its digital platform, months before TV.
Producers are also homing in on global hot-button issues.
“We see a major demand for short content, series and limited series, addressing important themes,” says Silvio de Abreu, Globo drama director. Globo will premiere “Harassment” at Mipcom. “La Jauria,” from Pablo and Juan de Dios Larrain’s Fabula, is inspired by Spain’s La Manada gang rape case.
Latin America is no longer just telenovelas, says Angela Poblete, head of TV at Fabula.
“Latin America’s screenwriters and directors are ever more respected abroad,” she says. “We’ve shown we can tell our own stories. This enthusiasm has been very well understood by the new platforms, while the political-social context has brought Latin America ever more onto the radar.”