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Pierluigi Gazzolo on Viacom International Studios, the Spanish-language Market

CANNES —  The L.A. Screenings represented the coming out of Viacom International Studios, which hit the market, then Conecta Fiction in Spain, with a powerful presentation of trailers.

The Conecta Fiction lineup signaled that VIS is also open to co-production and collaboration with creators in not only Latin America but far beyond; “To Catch a Thief” is written by one of Spain’s foremost TV creators, Javier Olivares;“Victoria Small,” Daniel Burman’s daily scripted comedy drama hit is produced with The Mediapro Studio; “Bad People” with “La Casa de Papel” original producers Atresmedia.

Also on the Conecta Fiction presentation was the “Red Dot,” a fantasy romantic thriller produced in Spain; “Spirit House,” originated by “Final Destination” creator Jeffrey Reddick, and produced with Convergence Entertainment; “Before I Forget,” a reversion from Turkey’s Ay Yapim.

In the run-up to Mipcom, it didn’t seem that a day went by without an announcement from VIS or Viacom Intl. Media Networks – Americas. During that period, Pierluigi Gazzolo, president of Viacom Intl. Media Networks – Americas, updated Variety on the dramatic build of VIS, and trends sweeping Latin America, and that the boom in its programming is not just a question of language.

Could you talk about what you think are the main trends of production in drama series?

Viacom has always been an IP-driven company. We’ve always been about content, and in the ’90s, in LATAM, our focus was primarily on the network business.  The reality is that in addition to the networks, we own 95% of our content. We have always said we must continue expanding. The media world is changing, and owning IP is key. In Latin America specifically, we’ve long had the U.S. properties, but we also created content for our Latin American networks: Nickelodeon, MTV, and Comedy Central. We then added Telefe, which as you know is one of the largest producers of content in Argentina, and then we acquired Porta dos Fundos, which is one of the top YouTube channels in Brazil, focused on TV-quality comedy content. We took these three and said: Let’s put them together, and that is how we created Viacom International Studios. Since then, from the beginning of 2018, we’ve grown significantly in revenues, and we’ve produced about 900 hours of content. We are expecting to continue growing our revenues at very high levels of nearly 60% this year.

60% in 2019?

Correct. We expect to grow nearly 60% in studio revenues compared to last year. Within Latin America the Studio has become a powerhouse production house, creating content for our channels and third parties. We create content for SVODs like Amazon and Netflix, and broadcasters like Mega and TV Azteca. In some cases, we even create content for our competition. It really has become a full-fledged studio.

Can you give a few examples?

For the first time,Telefe is exporting is content outside not only Argentina, but outside of Latin America, going to the U.S. For example, we recently announced that we closed a deal with Paramount TV to produce “100 Days To Fall In Love,” which was a hit format created and developed by Viacom International Studios for Telefe and Underground Producciones in Argentina for Showtime. It was a big hit in Argentina, with a 60% audience market share. We are also having conversations with countries in Europe to sell them the format to produce their own versions of our hit novelas.

Another example of Viacom International Studios creating great content for export is in Brazil with our hit YouTube comedy channel, Porta dos Fundos. A few weeks ago, we signed an agreement with YouTube Originals to produce a new reality series, “The New Future Ex Porta Actor,” which will document the search for a new comedian to join the Porta Dos Fundos’ cast exclusively for YouTube. This summer, we launched the Spanish-language version of the comedy platform, called “Backdoor,” which has already reached over 2 million subscribers and we just announced last week an agreement with Amazon Prime Video to acquire the first season of “Backdoor – Humor por donde no lo esperas”  (Backdoor- Comedy Where You Don’t Expect It) (20 eps. x 30 seconds).  The series will feature brand new comedy sketches by Backdoor and premiered on Comedy Central Latin America on Sept. 9, with the full series coming to Prime Video in Latin America later this year.

CREDIT: VIMN

Quite a lot of the shows you were showing at Conecta Fiction are co-productions, is that correct?

Yes. Sometimes we develop on our own from the start, but we also like to work with third parties that we respect. We recently partnered with Mediapro Studio to produce “Victoria Small.”  In its first week of air in Argentina, it reached 50% market share viewing. It’s our next big hit. It has the promise to be the next format to travel around the world, similar to “100 Days to Fall in Love.” So yes, we work with co-production partners, and sometimes we also do pre-buys with partners; however, we always seek to own the majority of the production and retain distribution rights.

How would you judge the demand for scripted content or Spanish language scripted content now?

There is so much content being produced right now, that I said to myself: “Where is it going to go?” But the reality is that the psychology of consumption has changed, and people need more and more content to watch. They want more choices and distributors and platforms want to offer more choices. The average consumer has more headspace to watch much more, so I think it will continue. I think their desire for content was underestimated in the past. There will always be more demand in our view of consumption. That’s the exciting part.

And demand for a specific type of content?

In our particular case, we’re finding that dramas with comedic events, “dramadies”,  that have some sense of lightness– lead the way. Great examples are  “100 Days To Fall in Love” and now “Victoria Small,” co-produced with Mediapro Studio. Also, tween telenovelas, such as VIS’s Nickelodeon “Club 57,” are becoming popular all over the world

What about the export potential?

There are amazing writers and developers in the Spanish-speaking world, incredible production quality both in Latin America and Spain, and the stories that are being told are universal. “100 Days to Fall in Love” is a perfect example. We develop the story, so it is ready to be exported. Even shows that have stayed in Spanish for distribution like Atresmedia/Netflix’’s “La Casa de Papel” go worldwide. It’s a very exciting time, and I think Latin America and Spain will continue to be big players.

Is that because we are a very big language market?

Yes, but it’s important to note that it is not just the language. Even within Latin countries there are complexities of culture. Argentine versions are not the same as in Chile, even though they are right next to one another. Same for Chilean and Mexico. So, there’s nothing that can replace the passion and knowledge in a script. We have become very good storytellers, and I think the world recognizes that.  So when I say Latin America and Spain will continue to be big players,  I’m referring to how we tell stories and how our formats can travel around the world regardless of language.

Club 57
CREDIT: Juan Botero

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