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Telefonica Initiates Latin America Original Series Production (EXCLUSIVE)

CANNES — Next stop Latin America. Having powered up high-end drama series production in Spain to 14-15 series this year via pay TV unit Movistar +, Telefonica has unveiled its first premium original series projects in Latin America.

Both set to shoot in a couple of months, they open up a further theater of production operations after Movistar + drives into originals production in Spain as Telefonica, Europe’s second-biggest telecom with €48.7 billion ($54.5 billion) revenues in 2018, bids to become the No.1 content player in the Spanish-speaking world.

The announcement has been made on the same day as Spain’s Movistar + world premieres Leticia Dolera’s “Perfect Life” in Official Competition at Canneseries, the second year in a row that a Telefonica-Movistar + high-end drama makes the cut.

Production on Movistar’s Latin American series slate will be lead by Paula Figueroa (pictured), as head of Telefonica Video Unit for Latin America, with oversight for Telefonica content operations outside Spain, and channelled through Telefonica‘s Media Networks in Lima, which already produces local and two regional channels.

Telefonica has tapped Peruvian director-writer-producer Joanna Lombardi as head of fiction, Movistar Latin America. Lombardi will report to Figueroa

First up for Telefonica in Latin America is Colombian coming-of-age series “Ruido Capital,” produced by Bogota-based Fidelio Films, and with, as showrunner, Mauricio Leiva Cock, a head writer on Netflix original “Frontera Verde,” and writer on its “Tijuana” and “Wild District,” plus “Falco,” acquired by Amazon. Cock’s Fidelio Films partner David Figueroa serves as head writer.

A six half-hour series, “Ruido Capital” follows two 13-year-olds dealing with the trepidations of young teens in ‘90s Bogota. It starts shooting in June, with the aim of starting streaming on Movistar Play by October.

“Ruido Capital” will be the first series produced out of Fidelio Films, said Lombardi.

Marking Telefonica-Movistar’s second Latin American Original Series, Peru’s Daniel and Diego Vega – arguably the country best-known upscale auteurs after breaking out with first feature, “October,” a Cannes Un Certain Regard hit – are set to direct a still untitled four-hour quirky comedy series. It is also scheduled to start principal photography in June.

Unspooling in 1986 when Peru was undergoing hyperinflation, terrorism, blackouts and a scarcity of basic goods, it centers on the late Puerto Rican salsa singer Hector Lavoe, who is in Peru to perform several concerts. There, Lavoe meets Tonyo, played by Lucho Caceres, a Lavoe impersonator and his No. 1 fan.

The series should be ready for delivery by year-end, said Figueroa. “Lavoe is an icon in Peru and many countries in the region, the directors are renown and the series plays with fiction and reality,” Lombardi added.

Telefonica will produce some five series from mid-year to the end of 2020, said Figueroa. It will focus on producing with Peru, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, and Mexico, markets which are “emblematic of culture in the region and where we have a critical mass of fixed lines and mobile clients,” Figueroa said.

Series will be a good balance of more local titles fully financed by Telefonica and produced with independent production companies, or co-productions with studios, large companies or OTT players thought more for the goal market, Figueroa said.

Telefonica series will be “premium content, though different one from another being made for different target audiences, but working with the best talents we have in Latin America, auteur driven, not typical scripted TV,” said Lombardi.

“People from Latin America need series which talk in their own language, series of substance focusing on close-by realities, not just premium series which come from abroad,” she added.

Telefonica’s plunge into high-end series production has large commercial logic. To date, Telefonica has largely focused on a telecom’s traditional business of connectivity, becoming a regional leader, Figueroa said. By the end of last year, Telefonica had almost 193 million Movistar TV, mobile and fixed broadband customers in Latin America, more clients than Netflix households in the world. Most of those – 183.1 million – are cell phone customers.

CREDIT: Fidelio Films

Via Movistar TV, Telefonica pay TV clients stand at 4.8 million in the region, 3.3 million in Spanish-speaking Latin America, 1.8 million in Brazil. “The drive into high-end content production is based on a reflection about what our clients want,” said Figueroa. “

We have production assets, networks, distribution channels, and a huge mass of clients,”  said Figueroa.

Launched from February 2018, with recent bows in Argentina and Mexico, Telefonica’s OTT service Movistar Play, given free to Movistar TV clients as part of their bundled fixed and mobile contracts,  accumulated nearly four million clients  in the region by March, offering potential for “exponential growth,” Figueroa added, noting that by 2021, video is expected to account for 80% of Internet traffic in Latin America.

Movistar TV and Play already act as “platform aggregators,” carrying Netflix, Amazon, HBO, Fox , ESPN, Viacom and Turner, and, in terms of content which marks them apart, Movistar Series, offering Movistar + Original Series from Spain.  Telefonica now arms to create its own differential content in Latin America, Figueroa said.

Telefonica’s Latin American production drive also rolls off results in Spain.

The top eight most-watched series ever on Movistar + are Movistar + Originals, said Sergio Oslé, Movistar + president. . “The top five have consumption levels that are clearly higher than what used to be the most-consumed event on our platform: the Real Madrid-Barcelona Clásico soccer match,” he added.

In 2018, despite strong competition, Movistar + saw a 6% year-on-year growth in pay TV customers, reaching over 4.1 million pay TV accounts, or an estimated reach of over 12 million people in Spain.

“We’ve accomplished this not by reducing prices, but by providing an unmatched value proposition, with the best communication and entertainment bundle in the market,” Oslé added.

Telefonica-Movistar in Latin America can now draw on Movistar +’s experience: “We’ve been releasing one series per month for the last 19, so through experience we have developed a certain know-how on how to do it,” Osle said.

He added: “It is obviously part-art (as with all creative endeavors) but we have also learned that there is a certain process element to it: from selecting the target segment, to developing to marketing and releasing the product into our platform.”

CREDIT: Credit: Movistar +

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