Movistar Plus Bets Big on Spanish-Language Content

Perfect Life Movistar Plus
Courtesy of MoviStar Plus

No company in the world has more market screenings at Mipcom, the biggest TV event in the world, than Telefonica pay TV unit Movistar Plus. It’s already Spain’s No. 1 content player, investing €841.1 million ($925.2 million) in programming this year, according to IHS Markit estimates. Now, it looks set to get even bigger.

On Sept. 20, Telefonica and Spanish network Atresmedia announced a framework agreement to create a 50/50 joint venture production-distribution giant to produce both series and feature films, focusing on fiction.

The alliance, negotiated by Atresmedia CEO Silvio Gonzalez and Emilio Gayo, Telefonica España president, comes after the July 19 global launch of the season 3 launch of “La Casa de Papel,” which was watched by 35 million Netflix household accounts over its first seven days, a new all-time record for a Netflix non-English-language series.

“The demand for high-quality Spanish-language content has never been higher,” Movistar Plus president Sergio Oslé has said. Spain and Latin America have nearly as many Spanish-language scripted series in development or production (160) as French and German-language shows combined (190), according to Ampere Analysis.

Telefonica and Atresmedia will “aggregate talent and resources to optimize and gain scale in content creation and distribution, becoming more competitive regarding the large international players which continue to emerge in a globalized sector,” the partners said in a written statement.

That’s been interpreted as an attempt to face off with Netflix and other global SVOD platforms. In reality, it’s more of a move to maintain the capacity to produce great shows for the partners themselves and also for the streamers.

“The battle for success in a SVOD world will be one for top talent: Discovering and above all retaining it,” Oslé said earlier this year.

Alone, Movistar Plus, which releases 11 original series a year, and Atresmedia simply do not have the production levels and slots to offer top talent continuous employment. Together, producing for themselves and third parties, they most certainly do. Their output will also allow them to exploit economies of scale, already used by Netflix at its Madrid European Production Hub, and to create a muscular Spanish national champion in a traditionally fragmented industry.

The Atresmedia-Telefonica alliance is not the only eye-catching move from Movistar Plus recently.

The pay/SVOD TV unit is forging a network of big, upscale European production and distribution partners. At Mipcom, Beta Film, tapping into its multi-year production-distribution alliance with Movistar Plus, will bring onto the market two of Movistar’s biggest 2020 tickets: North Africa-set anti-terrorist action thriller “La Unidad” and “Tell Me Who I Am,” the story of a well-off girl-turned-revolutionary told from the 1930s Madrid to the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

Movistar Plus is priming fact-based series, whether drama  based on true stories – such as “On Death Row,” co-produced with and sold by Studiocanal and screening at Mipcom — or documentaries with narrative structures, such as San Sebastian hit “The Prosecutor, the President and the Wife,” produced by ZDF, which it has backed.

Telefonica’s pay TV unit is also opening screen doors to women’s voices, most clearly with Leticia Dolera’s Canneseries double winner “Perfect Life,” also on Beta’s slate. Women, however, are protagonists in half or more of Movistar Plus’ announced upcoming series.

“At Movistar Plus, we’re trying to come up with an ecosystem that’s sustainable to tell stories that are not the typical ones American studios always want. Some of those will be for us, others for streaming platforms,” Oslé said.