Spain Builds Momentum as a High-End Drama Center

It’s no coincidence that Netflix chose Madrid for its first European production hub.

Spanish scribe Alex Pina and network Atresmedia created “Money Heist,” Netflix’s most-watched non-English language series ever. Telefonica’s Movistar Plus has partnered with Netflix and is making by far the biggest drive into high-end series of any telco in Europe.

Having produced “Money Heist” and “Velvet,” a huge hit in Latin America, Atresmedia has launched Atresmedia Studios, aimed at producing content for third-party VOD and pay-TV partners worldwide. Its first order, from Movistar Plus, is an emotional thriller called “The Pier” from Vancouver Media’s Pina and Esther Martinez Lobato and will be one of the only two Mipcom world premiere TV screenings.

Meanwhile, “The Young Pope’s” Spanish partner Mediapro has a series in development, “A Dry Run,” with “The Wire’s” David Simon.
There is a sense that Spain is becoming a genuine force in high-end series for the first time in its history. Spanish TV series have built loyalty among local audiences for decades, usually besting U.S. dramas in primetime.

Free-to-air titles such as “The Serranos” and “The Boarding School,” meanwhile, have sold internationally, sometimes as finished productions, other as remakes.

“The unique TV ecosystem created in Spain helped consolidate a local TV fiction industry, safeguarding TV creators,” says Ivan Escobar, the showrunner on Mediapro-Fox Network Group Espana’s “Vis a Vis.”

The SVOD boom is now allowing Spanish series to walk a global stage.

“The strength of Spanish TV fiction production rests in its executive producers, who write great stories with production quality at a reasonable price,” says Geraldine Gonard, director of TV drama summit Conecta Fiction.

Pina, Lobato, Escobar, Ramon Campos, Daniel Ecija, Teresa Fernandez-Valdes, Javier Olivares, Aitor Gabilondo join a long list of local showrunners who are drawing growing interest from big companies.

Netflix, for example, inked an exclusive production deal in July with Pina. Finishing “The Pier,” he and Lobato are writing “Money Heist Part 3” and preparing “White Lines,” teaming with Left Bank (“The Crown”).

Olivares (“The Department of Time”) signed in January an exclusive TV fiction development deal with Mediapro-Globomedia. His most immediate project, inked before signing with Mediapro, is a TV redo of Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief” for Viacom.

Teaming with Mediaset Espana at Alea Media, Gabilondo (“El Principe”) has created “Unauthorized Living,” about a Galician drug lord diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, while developing “Patria” for HBO Espana, adapting Fernando Aramburu’s best-selling novel.

Launched by producer Tomas Cimadevilla, Weekend Studio aims to discover big talents for upscale series. For Netflix, it is producing heroin-trafficking drama “Hache,” by Veronica Fernandez (“Velvet Collection”).

Spanish TV series have radically evolved, in stories and production ambitions.

“There has been a quality leap in scripts: We now look for interesting characters that will impact audiences,” Escobar says.

“We’re now thinking about local, global operators and co-producers. There is no longer a fixed scheme,” says producer Javier Mendez, at Mediapro.

Launched in September at Madrid’s Ciudad de la Tele, Netflix’s production hub will grow its Spanish-language original content.

“It will stir up Spanish series production,” says Bambu Producciones co-founder Campos. His “The Cable Girls,” Netflix’s first original series in Spain, has been renewed for season four, while it produces original drama “Alta Mar.”

The Spanish TV drama sector offers other competitive advantages.

“Producing a TV series in France, Italy and the U.K. with the same quality as Spain costs at least 30% more,” says Gonzalo Sagardia at Onza.

A game-changer in Spanish TV fiction scene, Telefonica’s Movistar Plus aims to produce 15 series next year with a €70 million ($82.4 million) base annual investment. Netflix is working on 20 original series productions across Spain this year. Atresmedia Studios estimates its potential clients will be looking to produce 50% more drama series in 2019.

The next step is internationalization. “The possibilities of generating TV fiction to compete in international markets have skyrocketed,” Escobar says.

Latin America looks the main target. In February, Movistar Plus launched TV channel Movistar Series in Latin America and is developing projects such as “Santa Clara” with Fox Networks Group Latin America and Chile’s Fabula.

A giant TV sports-rights broker, Mediapro has already allied on productions with many of the world’s leading TV players, from DirecTV Latin America (“Todo por el juego”), to Netflix (“Edha”) and Viacom (“Los Internacionales”) to Amazon Studios (“Six Dreams”), Fox Network Group España (“Vis a Vis”) and Turner Iberia (“Vota Juan”). The company is eying further expansion across the Latin region.

“We have a Spanish-speaking market with huge potential. Thanks to series such as ‘Velvet’ and ‘Money Heist,’ we have managed to break down the accent barriers. It is time to occupy the place for which we have been preparing for many years,” Campos says.

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