Nearly 15 years ago, Mediapro founder Jaume Roures sat in a posh hotel bar in Barcelona explaining why he had moved into director-driven film production, and lamenting the lack of ambition of many Catalans.
“For many people, success is opening a shop on the Diagonal,” he said, referring to Barcelona’s major thoroughfare.
Flash forward to 2019, and while Roures does have a “shop” on the Diagonal — Mediapro’s 16-story building in the high-tech sector of the boulevard looking over the Mediterranean — the ambitions that built it are global: the company encompasses 56 offices in 36 countries around the world, and counting.
Mediapro is also celebrating its 25th anniversary by driving big projects forward.
Last month, it announced the Mediapro Studio, with 34 scripted series in production — not development, production — for 2019, plus 200 TV shows or movies being written, produced or on air. The productions are either for or being produced with heavyweights including HBO, Amazon Prime Video, Disney, DirecTV, Viacom, Turner and Vice. More high-profile partners will soon be announced.
In 2018, Mediapro unveiled “Dry Run,” a drama series with “The Wire’s” David Simon about the Spanish Civil War’s Abraham Lincoln Brigade. This summer, it will produce Woody Allen’s next film.
Also last year, it delivered what analyst François Godard called “the biggest shock to the French broadcasting system in a generation,” outbidding Vivendi subsidy Canal Plus, Europe’s second biggest pay TV player, for rights to France’s Ligue 1 soccer matches over 2020-24.
Mediapro’s full-year 2017 income stood at €1.65 billion ($1.9 billion), with $214 million operating profits.
In scale, global reach and high-profile content production, Mediapro has joined Europe’s premiere league of film and TV independents. How it got there is the question most frequently asked of the company.
One explanation is in the origins of its top management. Mediapro’s guiding spirits Roures and Tatxo Benet first worked together at Catalunya’s TV3, Spain’s second regional public broadcaster, which launched in 1983, building the sports department.
“There wasn’t anything: No mobile units, links, nor outside production houses,” Benet says. So, without anything, they learned, with hard work, how to do most everything. That has given them a wide-angle vision of the business.
Since 1994, Mediapro has made three bold strategic moves: Building a sports-rights business; launching a Spanish broadcast network, La Sexta, in 2006; and moving into high-end international drama production, co-producing HBO/Sky/Canal Plus series “The Young Pope,” starring Jude Law, in 2016.
All three moves have paid off, although La Sexta was sold in 2012 to Spanish broadcast group Atresmedia as Spain’s recession of 2009-13 decimated its revenues.
In sports, having bought soccer games via TV3 for Spain’s Forta regional TV network, Roures and Benet questioned Canal Plus’ retail model. Canal Plus was asking potential clients to pony up $56-$78 just to subscribe to its service, then add $14 more to see their team’s match. “[It] didn’t synch with market demand,” Benet remembers.
Beginning to battle for Spanish Liga rights in 2006, Mediapro has pushed a radically different model by offering more money to clubs, then slashing retail prices to drive up soccer match viewership, which at that time was between 1.5 million and 1.7 million.
“We saw our chance and took it,” Benet says.
The long-term result has been, Roures notes, that 4.9 million pay TV households now subscribe to soccer matches, paying a fraction of past prices.
Sports rights, especially soccer, can be extraordinarily expensive. Sports rights acquisition and sales, which accounts for 40% of Mediapro revenues, says Benet, helps to explain Mediapro’s scale.
So does its ambition. Eight years after co-producing its first feature, 2000’s “La Espalda del mundo,” Mediapro released its first production with Woody Allen, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”
Regarding Mediapro’s move into high-end drama, “we saw that the streaming platforms would power up demand, so we tried to get in early,” Benet says.
“We’ve never said: ‘We just want the Catalan market, or Spain, or Europe.’ We want to work in the whole world,” Roures says. “And people overvalue specialization. You’ve got to do everything you’re capable of doing and do it well. Our market niche is the entire audiovisual sector.”
The key to success, now as it was 25 years ago, is still “to gain a client’s trust,” he says. Mediapro has learned to leverage customers’ trust in one sector to move into another. “We might first enter a country selling sports rights, then offer to produce sports transmissions or channels or other productions, or offer a series.”
For the Argentine market, Mediapro partners with ESPN to produce content and program the sports net’s six-channel bouquet. Its first two Amazon productions are both soccer docs: “All or Nothing: Manchester City” and “Six Dreams,” a portrait of six figures in Spain’s La Liga.
“I really don’t mind if we produce in Spanish, English or Finnish. Our challenge and achievement has been to get there, producing with the most important operators in the world,” Roures says.
So where does Mediapro go from here? It is studying a stock market listing. They “inspire more trust, and, as the sector consolidates, we need the scale an IPO can give,” Benet says.
For Roures, there’s no end in sight to Mediapro growth. “The way of watching TV is changing. If we’re making 34 series this year, next year it will be 40.”
Soccer is also still expanding around the world. “We’re being asked to go to Papua New Guinea, the Barbados to produce beach soccer world cups or sub-20 women’s soccer championships, tourneys that didn’t even exist three to four years ago,” says Roures. “People want more content and much higher-quality content.”
Mediapro, with its all-purpose outlook, is there to meet the demand.
A look at the Medipro executive team:
A force for change in Spanish film and TV, helping to create Catalonia’s TVC, Spain’s first regional broadcaster, then Mediapro in 1994 and becoming its driving force with Tatxo Benet. Independent-minded, forthright, left-wing and unpretentious, he says Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” is one of his proudest achievements.
A journalist during Spain’s 1975-1982 transition to democracy, he joined TVC in 1983, was appointed TV3 sports director in 1987 and oversaw its transmission of the 1992 Barcelona Games. He helped steer its conversion into a global player in sports rights and now high-end TV. “I am delighted by our ambition, in the good sense of the word,” he says.
LAURA FERNANDEZ ESPESO
Globomedia international development head since 2009. She was tapped as Mediapro director of international content in 2016 to help its international production drive, and is spearheading Mediapro’s master’s degree in creative writing and screenplays and is now joint head of TV, the Mediapro Studio.
A veteran Prisa radio journalist from 1978, Pons entered TV production by heading El Terrat. TVE managing director (2007-10), he launched DKiss with Discovery, before joining Mediapro as Globomedia director general from 2016. As the Mediapro Studio joint TV head, he oversees local production but past exec positions in Paris and Mexico suggest a far broader vision.
He handled major Hollywood deals at Spain’s Sogecable from 1997-2001, joining Mediapro in 2002. As head of film production from 2002-12, he has overseen its move into high-profile international film and, from 2014-15, its move into international TV co-production. He was appointed the Mediapro Studio chief content officer in March 2019.
JUAN RUIZ DE GAUNA
He was manager of Spain’s first private-sector network, Antena 3 TV, in 1989, and CEO of Prisa’s film companies Sogetel, Sogepaq and IDEA, which backed new Spanish directors such as Julio Medem (“Vacas”). He went from CEO of Via Digital to Mediapro in 2002, becoming director general of La Sexta from 2006-12, and now Mediapro Group general manager.
One of Spain’s most experienced film and TV sales heads, Setuain was a member of the Prisa-owned Sogepaq sales team, head of Imagina Intl. Sales cinema division from 2008-13, returning as director of Imagina Intl. Sales, the overseas distribution arm of the Mediapro Group, since February 2017.
Tellem, a producer on “Homeland” and longtime VP of programming and content at Israel’s Keshet Broadcasting, was tapped as Mediapro head of international content development in 2016. He is driving some of Mediapro’s most-anticipated titles: “The Paradise,” “The Head,” “Unwanted.”
Another multi-prized creator and leading light of New Argentine Cinema (“Lost Embrace”), Burman was showrunner on Globo’s “Supermax” and “Edha,” Argentina’s first Netflix original, before becoming Mediapro head of content, U.S., Mexico, Central America in April 2018.