MADRID — Movistar Plus, the pay TV/SVOD arm of giant European telecom Telefonica, is upping the ante. On New Year’s Eve, it announced a first 2020 release line-up – more titles may be added – that has two big swings, more emphasis on action, and a larger number of comedy and non-fiction plays.
2020’s 14 new series or seasons marks an all-time company record.
That, however, is just Movistar Plus, and does not count any big series in the second half of the year, or any that it might put into development via a new joint production venture, announced in September, with broadcast network Atresmedia.
Also, there may be more feature films, following on the company’s first original movie, Alejandro Amenábar’s “While at War,” which earned a gratifying €11.0 million ($12,0 million) at the Spanish box office this year, and established the pay TV unit as one of the very few companies in Spain with the ambition to make large scale feature film dramas.
All of Movistar Plus’ titles have been announced. Following, however, five immediate takes on the overall release slate:
1. Social-Issue Actioners
2020’s bows signal Movistar Plus 2.0. One big change: the action. If you don’t trap viewers in the first 90 seconds of a series, they could already be turning off, Netflix has reportedly advises show-runners. Both of Movistar Plus’ first semester flagships, “The Invisible Line” and “La Unidad,” are action-based. “The Invisible Line,” Mariano Barroso’s follow-up to “What the Future Holds,” one of the best-reviewed of Movistar Plus series to date, turns on ETA’s first – cack-handed, tragic – assassination. Created by Dani de la Torre (“Retribution”) and Alberto Marini (“Sleep Tight”), “La Unidad,” from the few details divulged on set, looks to be a melange of office-based drama/and action thriller at a Melilla-based anti-jihad terrorist unit. But both turn on red-hot issues: When and why does pacific resistance turned to armed violence? What are the limits of an ethical war on terrorism?
2.Out-Scaling the Opposition
“The Unit” was shot on location in Tangiers, Perpignan, Girona, Madrid, Galicia, Nigeria and Toulouse. “Antidisturbios,” Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s upcoming Movistar Plus riot-police drama-thriller, is filming in just La Coruña and Madrid, but on over 170 locations. Billed as Movistar’s first international production and shot in Spanish, German, Greek, Italian with a European cast, ”Díme Quien Soy” follows a before-her-times woman’s life from the 1930s Republic through the Spanish Civil War, WWII, Cold War to 1989. Size is no automatic passport to audiences. But, all other things being equal, if you can out-scale the opposition, all the better.
Three of Movistar Plus’ biggest hits – per views, prizes and critical reaction – have been upscale auteurist comedies directed with flare: “Shame,” from Juan Cavestany (“People in Places”) and Alvaro Fernandez Armero (“Sidetracked”), about the excruciating pretensions of a talentless shutterbug; Rose d’Or winner “Arde Madrid,” created by Paco Leon and Anna R. Costa and a b & w dramedy of female liberation set against Ava Gardener’s wild days in ‘60s Madrid; Leticia Dolera’s “Perfect Life,” a 30something women’s crisis dramedy and double 2019 Canneseries winner, for Best Series and Special Performance Award. Comedies are totally binge-worthy, often highly cost-effective. Movistar Plus has now swelled its ranks with two new titles: Male cretin comedy “Nasdrovia,” with Leonor Watling (“Talk to Her”) and Hugo Silva (“The Department of Time”);“Supernormal, about the travails of a female super-mom.
4.A New Non-Fiction Line
Movistar Plus world premiered one episode of “ETA, the End of Silence,” from Jon Sistiaga and Alfonso Cortés-Cavanillas, at September’s San Sebastian Film Festival. It now has three other non-fiction series in the hopper: “Espías,” from David Beríain
(“Clandestino”), with recordings of real international intelligence service operations; “El Palmar de Troya,” about a scandal-laden Seville Catholic Church with its own Pope; and Santiago Posteguillo’s “The Heart of the Empire,” about great women’s impact on the Roman Empire.
5.A Spanish Industry Driver
“La Unidad,” “Supernormal” and “El Palmar de Troya” mark Movistar Plus’ first production collaborations with, respectively, Galicia’s Vaca Films, Secuoya, the company behind Madrid Content City, and 100 Balas, owned by The Mediapro Studio. Movistar Plus started out financing series with the highest-profile established TV show runners and movie talent. It quickly began to broadening its partnerships. As ever fewer Spanish movies mint millions, this makes for a more sustainable Spanish content industry as its series are conquering audiences abroad.