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Pol-ka at 25: New TV Business, New Models

In 2010, Pol-ka Producciones produced two long-format series concurrently every half year, airing in primetime on Argentine broadcast network El Trece, blocking out two hours, and running on average to over 120 episodes.

For 2019, as it turns 25, it will be producing two not four long-format series, including banner title “Argentina, Land of Passion and Revenge” –  7 series and 15 short content formats.

That is just one indication of how the ground have shifted  under Pol-ka’s feet, as of the TV industry’s at large, obliging it to adopt new business models.

“Our core business just five to ten years ago was two prime time long running series for El Trece. But that dropped to one in 2015, at least 120 hours of production less,” says Pol-ka Manuel Martí, head of development and international business.

To a certain extent that may have been a blessing in disguise, requiring Pol-ka to diversify its business model and work ever more with pan-regional pay TV operators, Turner, Disney and then Fox.

That in turn meant learning new production methods. “With a long format, you can tweak and fine-tune throughout the whole process, which usually takes 8-12 months. With a short-format – 13, 10, 8 episodes – that simply isn’t possible,” Martí says.

That wasn’t the only change at Pol-ka.

“Production values, in terms of what you see on the screen, had to upgrade,” Marti recalls. “We were watching all the new Netflix series at that time and their production value was way higher.”

Pol-ka signed a 10-year deal with Turner, El Trece and Argentine pay/OTT operator Cablevision for two series and 120 hours a year.

“A long term deal is highly attractive. It gives us predictable recurrent funding. The business model is great for us,” Martí enthuses.

But it also means divvying up release windows.

In 2018, Pol-ka merged its international and digital and short content department. “Given most content is being consumed on cell phones, we thought we should reach them with content,” Martí says. “Currently, the only model is branded content.  But we think there’ll be other revenues streams in the future.”

Also, IP lifecycles can now much shorter. In the past, Pol-ka licensed a first TV window to a network, then might syndicate to pan-regional TV networks. Now, working with platforms, it needs to deficit finance against future pay TV revenues.

“The perception is that it’s much more expensive to shoot a series now but what has changed is the business model and not the production costs per se,” Martí says.

If a show clicks on an OTT operator, it will buy the IP in order to produce a second season, spin offs or prequels and so on. So the lifecycle again is about one year. “In the past, if the show was good, you could have five-to-eight years of good sales.”

There are more challenges for the future. One is what to do with Pol-ka’s 6,000 hours of catalogue, which once had large re-formatting potential abroad. Now viewers are increasingly watching the original, not remakes.

The largest challenge, however, may be to evolve yet further, which demands a leap in mindset.

“At first, we made shows for our country, Argentina, then for the world from our country,” says Martí. “The next step is to shoot shows outside our country, in Colombia, Mexico, Spain like a studio that has the knowhow, besides the muscle. We have to think internationally, finding the right content, wherever it is.”

That’s a sign of the times. “You find more stories about things happening between Mexico and France, or Spain and Argentina. At the same time, there’s a huge interest from the platforms and the networks in Europe for content that feels new and fresh,” says Martí.

He adds: “We’re finding companies from France, Germany or Sweden, that are interested in content about events in Mexico or Chile.”

Opportunities in the new TV landscape are far-reaching. Developing new business models, Pol-ka aims to explore them.

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