Adapting to an ever-more digital world, if Latin America’s scripted series industry could choose an early 2018 mantra, it might well be “co-production.”
Co-produced by Fox Networks Groups Latin America (FNGLA) and Mexico’s La Corriente del Golfo, Gael Garcia Bernal’s “Here on Earth” is competing in Canneseries, the Cannes Intl. Series Festival, which is unspooling its first edition April 4-11 during MIP.
Among Latin America’s biggest free-to-air series hits this year are “Sandro,” co-produced by Viacom-owned Telefe and Telefilms’ the Magic Eye, and Globo’s “13 Days Away From the Sun,” co-produced with Fernando Meirelles’ o2 Filmes.
One of Latin America’s largest TV deals to go down this year was a double-backed co-production alliance between Turner Latin America and Spain’s Mediapro, announced at NATPE. Meanwhile, the top Latino content producers pinpoint co-production as a key growth strategy. Telemundo Global Studios aims “to co-produce with companies with a lot of experience, and caché,” says president Marcos Santana.
“We are open to co-productions in different formats and already studying new projects in English and Spanish with major international players,” says Carlos Henrique Schroder, CEO of TV Globo.
Why the co-production fever? There is a market sea change across Latin American free-to-air, traditional pay-TV and SVOD services; however, the reasons for change vary.
“As advertising comes under pressure and audiences stray to on-demand platforms, broadcasters are exploring new revenue sources from content production and distribution,” says IHS Markit’s Tim Westcott.
But “free-to-air TVs do not have the ratings nor industry model they once had,” says Manuel Marti, at Argentina’s Pol-ka. “Companies have to come together to compete against the huge digital platform players,” says Geraldine Gonard, director of Conecta Fiction.
“Co-production has transformed from a trend to a strategic necessity for most companies who take risks,” said Guillermo Borensztein, Viacom Intl. Media Networks Americas, VP, content sales & co-productions.
He added: “In the context of a high demand for local productions, content with greater production values (so bigger costs), [competition from ] new platforms and the same revenues split between several players, co-production is today the system’s principal – though not only – reply to continue generating ever more relevant contents.”
Traditional Latin American pay-TV is also under pressure. Fewer than 5 million additional pay TV subscribers are expected to sign up between 2017 and 2023, according to Digital TV Research.
Even the healthiest cable TV leaders are changing their models. Turner Latin America, for example, grew via “acquisitions, and great content,” says Tomas Yankelevich, its chief content officer, general entertainment.
But present-day potential for acquisitions is limited so Turner aims to ramp-up its original series production to, in principle, an annual 12-15 in two years’ time for channels TNT and Space.
Co-production aids that charge. “We’re talking about series costing over $400,000 an episode,” high for Latin America, Yankelevich says. “If we produce them alone, we’d limit the number we make, and we want to be present on all platforms, with audiences choosing how they see us.”
In contrast to cable TV, SVOD penetration will nearly double in Latin America by 2021, as, crucially, average broadband speeds passed Netflix-enabling 4MG in last quarter 2016, according to IHS Markit’s Erik Brannon.
But OTT operators have a low supply of their own local original content, which they have to grow, whatever the cost, Marti points out.
One way is co-producing. Seeking to build its Flow SVOD service, Argentina’s Cablevision has inked a multi-year deal with Turner Latin America’s TNT, Canal 13 and Pol-ka to co-produce 20 hours of original series a year.
Further reasons for co-production abound. It gives you “co-finance for better cast and directors” and also, depending on co-producers, “know-how, and know-who,” says Santana, an international co-production pioneer.
Co-production also furthers access to some of Latin America’s best creatives, now crossing over from film to TV.
“We started 10 years ago with our own development team and production companies” FoxTelecolombia and Fox in Mexico, says Edgar Spielmann, exec VP & COO, entertainment and digital, FNGLA. “But we understood that to get the results we’re now achieving, we had to open up to different developers, writers and production companies.”
So FNGLA is now co-producing most Latin American series. One example: “Santa Maria,” from Chile’s Academy Award winners Fabula (“A Fantastic Woman”), part of a two-series co-development/production alliance between FNGLA and Spain’s Movistar Plus.
Starting to air April 6, “Destino Rusia,” a soccer documentary series, marks the first co-production between HBO Latin America and HBO Europe. Again, both coin and creativity come into play.
“We needed to pool economic resources,” says HBO Latin America’s Roberto Ríos. But, he adds, working with HBO España’s Miguel Salvat, “we’ve found more interesting and unexpected angles.”
In a bigger picture, co-production for pay TV companies reflects another market change.
Cable TV companies “used to focus on movies. Their goal was to have more and more channels, to have a larger slice of the subscriber cake,” says Yankelevich.
Now, however, Turner Latin America’s goal is to “maintain its current [cable TV] business, which is very healthy,” but, with the growth of new consumer habits, “have ‘must have’ channels.”
That means “own movies and series not on other channels, local content, Hollywood films which we’ll go on acquiring, light and live entertainment, sports — more general entertainment.” Exclusive series help drive this mix.
Latin American co-production is still in first-phase experimentation. Co-production now mean many things, says VIMN America’s Borensztein. Future options could take in sharing infrastructure to make multiple scripted versions in paralelo (as with unscripted shows); the co-production of “relevant, disruptive bilingual versions”; and capitalizing on local incentives to relocate productions. “Context will redefine new ways of association.”
“Latin American co-producers need to produce with partners, make shows with higher budgets, learn to write shorter shows, where the Latin American industry doesn’t have much experience as they used to make long-format series or soaps,” adds Gonard.
That said, co-production looks set to only grow in the immediate future. Canneseries/MIPTV’s first In Development co-production forum is a recognition of that. The old TV model of just local TV and U.S. imports is a thing of the past.
A list of top Latin American TV titles at MIP:
13 Days Away From the Sun
Globo’s first disaster series, a high-rise collapse survival thriller from Fernando Meirelles’ O2 Filmes, has already racked up 29.34 ratings points, according to research firm the Wit.
An Armageddon tale set in three separate decades, “Apocalypse” broke Record TV audience marks on its Brazil bow.
This TV Azteca Intl. primetime series, picked up by Amazon for Latin America, looks at the ugly world of forced surrogacy.
Besieged, Season 2
A big new Fox Networks Group Latin America bet, set 15 years after Patagonia’s first season, relocates the action to Cartagena, mixing in political intrigue.
The first co-production from two HBO companies (Europe and Latin America) is a doc series celebrating characters and stories in the soccer world. Set to air in more than 55 countries.
This Red Arrow Studios Intl. Spanish-language remake of Germany’s “The Last Cop 2” is co-produced by Colombia’s Dynamo, which provided production services on “Narcos,” and Miami-based Spiral Intl.
Gael García Bernal’s anticipated and biting put-down of Mexico’s ruling elite, series is a high-end blending of coming-of-age drama, murder mystery, political thriller and noir. Selected for Canneseries competition.
First-up drama series at Telemundo Intl. Studios’ Hollywood talent-driven, Spanish-language production unit, series is a pulsating Mexican-border maximum security prison thriller unveiled at NATPE.
A mix of crime-solving, prison break thriller and romance, this NBC Universal Intl. series, co-produced by Argos, averages 1.4 million per episode on Telemundo.
Lazaro y el Rico
A high-budget — nearly $900,000 per episode — biblical telenovela from Record TV is Univision’s No. 1 Spanish-language series, with a ratings a bullish 2 million-plus viewers.
La Ley Secreta
Caracol Intl.’s groundbreaking series about a real-life special force of female police officers.
The latest from the fruitful Turner Latin America/Pol-ka/El Trece/Cablevision co-production alliance has Rodrigo de la Serna (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) in the titular role.
La Mama del 10
Sixty-episode rags-to-riches story of a woman devoting her life to her son, who becomes Colombia’s top soccer player. Caracol Intl. produces.
Mary & Mike
Co-produced by Turner Latin America and Chile’s Invercine & Wood (“Ramona”), a facts-based chronicle follows a bourgeois couple who become an international hit squad for Pinochet.
The Other Side of the Wall
NBC Universal Intl.’s timely drama focuses on immigration and building a new life in a hostile land. Co-produced by Argos.
Argentina’s most-watched show of 2018, musical biopic “Sandro” is the first TV series from the Magic Eye, owned by Latin American movie distributor Telefilms, co-produced by Viacom’s Telefe.
Globo’s 1930s-set feminist four-part mini, which aired in Brazil in early January with an over-44 million reach, is about two sisters, separated when young, with one becoming a brigand’s wife in Brazil’s barren northeast, the other marrying into Recife’s hypocritical upper class.
Airing on Canal 13, Argentina’s second most-watched show from Pol-ka in February is a teen musical telenovela.
HBO Latin America’s Brazilian series is currently airing its fourth and final season. Series follows three women who launch an escort business but recast it as a cutting-edge brand.
A multi-generational suspense thriller from TV Azteca Intl., based on the BBC’s “Lightfields” and co-produced with 20th Century Fox. Amazon recently secured Latin American rights.
RCN TV’s 60-part life story centers on Zumba dance creator, Alberto “Beto” Perez, who overcame a troubled youth.
Compiled by John Hopewell, Jamie Lang and Anna Marie de la Fuente