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Tomas Yankelevich Talks Turner Latin America Growth

Turner aims to ramp up production to 12-15 series a year in Latin America, says Miami-based executive

Director of global contents and international businesses at Argentine broadcast network Telefe over 2011-16, Tomas Yankelevich steered it into a modern broadcast age. That meant  repositioning it as a proactive content factory, not a passive distributor. Another move was a drive it into international-standard content production and ownership via shorter-format fiction and co-development and production alliances from 2015 with Keshet Intl., Endemol Shine and FremantleMedia, which gave Telefe a cut in international IPs.

Relocating from Buenos Aires to Miami and Telefe to Turner Latin America after Viacom’s purchase of Telefé in November 2016, Yankelevich, now EVP & Chief Content Officer, general entertainment, Turner Latin America, is one executive at the controls of another partial strategic makeover, this time of Turner Latin America, fast emerging as one of Latin America’s premium content production powerhouses. In an interview, Yankelevich takes Variety through the main paradigm shifts, product of sea-change in the content industry and consumer habits at large.

I spoke to Marcelo Tamburri just before Natpe who said that Space aims to double its series output from about four this year to eight or nine. I believe this forms part of a more general original series production ramp-up in Latin America. 

Yes: Turner Latin America aims to ramp-up original series to about 12-15 in two years time for TNT and Space. Turner Latin America holds the No. 1 spot among all pay TV network groups in the region in 2017, owning  6 channels in its top 20: Cartoon Network, TNT, Space, Warner Channel, Boomerang and TNT Series. Turner Latin America grew via acquisitions, great content, especially in general entertainment. But present-day potential for acquisitions is limited and consumer habits are changing.

The production hike will see Turner Latin America creating and owning more IPs….

Exactly. One strategic change we’ve just announced is Marcelo’s appointment as, focusing entirely on the development of origina content in Latin America. Before, we were largely offered series ideas. With Marcelo’s new role, we want to be part of series’ ideas, development, to be one step-ahead, so have more possibilities to co-produce, and keep a larger part of the IP.

Many of the recent series you have put into production, such as “Mary & Mike,” are co-productions with local partners. To what extent has co-production become an essential strategy for Turner Latin America?

We’re talking about series costing over $400,000 an episode, high for Latin America. If we produce them alone, we’d limit the number we make, but we want to be present on all platforms, for audiences to choose how they see us.

The co-production agreements also involve novel windowing arrangements.

It’s important not to limit ourselves to the famous egotism of one screen. Of course one always wants to have a series first, and that’s part of the negotiation. But what’s important is to find other advantages, alternatives, companies who are willing to co-finance.

One example would be Argentina….

Both Artear and Cablevision are part of Argentina’s Clarín Group. Cablevisión is looking to grow its Flow platform. We have a strategic multi-year agreement to produce 20 hours a year. It’s working very well. We develop the projects with Pol-ka which has the advantage that Adrián Suar is at the same time artistic director of Canal 13, so thinking about what could screen on it. So we have the certainty of airing on Canal 13, and release on TNT or Space and Cablevision.

At Natpe, you also announced a co-development and production deal with Spain’s Mediapro.

Its way of working is very interesting, very different, artistic. One part of the agreement is to co-produce for Chilevision, the other for all Latin America, but principally Mexico and Brazil. Its way of working is very interesting, very different, artistic. One part of the agreement is to co-produce for Chilevision, the other for all Latin America, but principally Mexico and Brazil. Marcelo Tamburri moved to Mexico be nearer to its culture and content generators.

Isn’t one challenge, seen in Europe as well, just to create the series at the pace that you would like?

It’s a challenge but we’re advancing with giant steps. In March, we aired “Mary & Mike” on Chilevision and then a few hours later on Space. In Brazil, Space will shortly bow “Pacto de Sangre”; TNT has “The Cockfighter” Season 2 for the end of the year and “The Lobbyist,” fruit of the co-production agreement with Pol-ka, Artear and Cablevision. For the second half of the year, we’re working with Buena Vista on the story of Carlos Monzón, the Argentine boxer. We also have “Rosario Tijeras, with Sony Pictures Television, on which we’ll air the first two seasons, and “El Secreto de Selena,” with Disney Media Distribution, about the life of the queen of Tex-Mex. In Mexico again, for Space, we’re wrapping production on “Por la Mascara,” an action comedy linked to the world of lucha libre. There we have a deal with Triple A,  which already airs on Turner for Latin America whereby at the end of the series, the character, who is obviously fictitious, transforms into a Triple A wrestler. So we’re inventing a fictitious character who becomes a real wrestler.

In what other ways are new consumer habits changing Turner Latin America strategy. 

Before, Turner Latin America’s programming focused on movies and a [cable] company’s goal was to have more and more channels to have a larger slice of the subscriber cake. Now, with current [cable TV] business, which is very healthy, with the build of digital, we have got to have channels which are ‘must-have.’ That means owning movies and series not on other channels, local content, Hollywood films which we’ll go on acquiring, light entertainment, live entertainment, sports – more general entertainment.

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