CANNES — Turner Latin America is a pacemaker. Few companies in the region have evolved so fast, driven into high-end series production with such energy. A dominant force in pay TV, Turner Latin America already produces 6,000 hours of programming, including its sports channels and Chilean network Chilevision. Given that, few top executives are in a better position to comment on evolution than Tomás Yankelevich, Turner Latin America’s EVP & Chief Content Officer General Entertainment. Variety’s conversation with him, in the runup to Mipcom, focused largely on scripted. He will hit Mipcom with a spring in his step, however, as his latest production in the non-fiction space, “El Disciple del Chef,” a cooking talent show, bowed on Chilevision on Oct. 7, notching up a 42-1% market share in the 25-34 target, 43.6% in middle class audiences, making it Chilevision’s best bow of the year. Here, Yankelevich analyzes trends at Turner Latin America and the region at large.
Have you seen a change in the quality or narrative of high-end series recently?
Yankelevich : Usually when something works, there’s a bunch of countries that try to follow. For many years, we’ve been seeing lots of Latin narco content, and now I think that’s switching. At least we are switching. We had more biopic type of content, and a lot of thrillers, and now we’re trying to move to drama, comedy and more emotional content. Latin American action series used to have the highest production values. Drama and comedies were not treated as high-quality content. Now, we’re trying to make them at the same production level, as high as action series or thrillers,
Could you mention one or two of your comedies or dramedies which you are now developing, or have bowed?
In Mexico we’ve just wrapped “Amarres.” We have a bit more work in editing room, but it’s really amazing. We are going to release in the first quarter of 2020. Also in Mexico, we’re releasing “Bronco,” which is a biopic of a very popular music group in Mexico. The story is partially about racism and how these poor guys that didn’t even have money to record a full album were able to make it all the way up to the top.
“Amarres” is part of your deal with Dopamine and “Bronco” is about a Mexican band. Mexico seems one of the key Latin American territories for you.
Nowadays, Mexico, being so close to the US and having close to 40 million Mexicans living in the US, Mexican content is very valuable for that people. That’s one of the reasons that we are producing much more in Mexico than the rest of the region. We do produce a lot in Brazil. We stay around 20-30 hours of scripted, high-quality series. We produce much more than that in Argentina where we also have soccer, and a live channel for that. We produce for third parties Telefé and Canal13 in Argentina as well. In scripted, we are doing around 10-12 TV series of 8-13 episodes each, and of those we are focusing a bit more on Mexico
You’ve spoken in the past about increasing the volume of production, how is that going now at Turner Latin America?
We started about two years ago, and we know how to mix in acquisitions. The difference is on the business side. Because we produce and own the actual property, we decide what we’re going to do with it. Since we are the producers, we usually adhere to the interests of the networks. We buy less than we used to. We used to buy first window and ended up paying close to 50% of the value of content. We don’t need that any-more. The good thing about it is that we don’t have to hope to find good content somebody brings to us. We are developing it, and we are starting from scratch and have a dedicated team working from day one with the screenwriters and producers. In terms of hours, we used to produce 20 hours of high-end scripted series and now we are close to 120. So it’s a big difference.
At the same time, you have signed co-production deals with both The Mediapro Studio and Dopamine. I wonder how the Mediapro deal is going you…
We are in the screenwriting stage on first series and it’s coming really well. Hopefully we’re going to start shooting end of this year. We are also almost ready to release our first project together, “El Discípulo del Chef.” We’re taking that project to Mipcom as well. It’s a reality show, but it’s a little different with three chefs who work with teams and actually cook. It’s big, prime time, shiny floor, must have cooking show for free-to-air networks around the world next year. We’ll be launching pretty much around the time of Mipcom.
A key issue for Latin America is how established powerful pay TV players will adapt to an OTT universe. How will that affect Turner?
We are trying to have a relationship with all the talent, on and off camera in every critical country, developing lots of projects in the pipeline for the near future, not only for us, but hopefully HBO Max. Because content is flourishing in Latin America it’s often hard to get the best talent, so I am developong lots of projects that we can pipeline in the near future. And not only for us, but for other platforms as well.
In “Amarres” and “The Cleaning Lady,” another Turner Latin America production, you have female protagonists. Are you consciously increasing the female voices on screen or behind the cameras at Turner?
For sure there are more strong female characters, we’re not the first ones to move to this narrative. Maybe it’s a bit revolutionary for the Mexican audience. We started with “Rosario Tijeras” with Sony and Azteca, and in a few months, it’ll have its third season. What we do isn’t just the female lead but focus on what surrounds that character. The idea is to keep on going that direction.