Movistar Plus Ramps up TV Production

The Invisible Line MovieStar Plus
Courtesy of MovieStar Plus

Movistar Plus, the pay TV division of Telefonica, one of Europe’s biggest telecoms, is scaling up — in series’ ambition, distribution aggression and corporate magnitude — as it seeks preeminence as a producer not only in Spain but also in the world’s dramatically exploding Spanish-language content market.

That expansive drive has seen bullish moves in 2020, despite COVID-19. Movistar Plus has teamed with AMC Studios to produce what is most probably Spain’s biggest series ever, epic adventure thriller “La Fortuna,” showrun by “The Others’” Alejandro Amenábar. Produced by Movistar Plus and Mod Producciones, the series, which went into production in early August, marks the former’s first original with a star of Hollywood renown, Stanley Tucci.

Set in 1804 and the present day, spreading from Spain, across the Atlantic Ocean to Miami, “La Fortuna” shows Movistar Plus working on a larger canvas and upping the ante on banner series’ action. The 1804 flashback features a naval battle during the Napoleonic Wars between British warships and a Spanish frigate loaded with treasure from the New World.

In a second key thrust, Telefonica and Movistar Plus have launched Buendía Estudios, a joint venture with Spanish broadcast network Atresmedia, the original producer of “Money Heist” and “Locked Up,” to create series and movies for the global streaming platforms.

Absorbing Atresmedia Estudios, whose former CEO Ignacio Corrales becomes head of the joint venture, Buendía looks set to inherit Atresmedia Estudios’ SVOD productions, such as bioseries “La Veneno” and doc series “Road Trip,” just renewed by TNT Spain and sold to HBO Max for the U.S.

To date, Movistar Plus has produced series for its own platform in Spain, and then sold to the world. It will continue to do so, Buendía Estudios representing an addition to its established production business not a replacement, says Sergio Oslé, Movistar Plus president.

In another ramp up in scale, Movistar Plus will world premiere at San Sebastian the first three episodes of “Tell Me Who I Am.” It is the first fruit of its production alliance with Telemundo Intl. Studios and centers on a woman’s personal emancipation drama ranging over 1936-45 and the Spanish Civil War, the Warsaw ghettos, Stalin’s Russia and the 1945 liberation of Berlin.

“We are starting to build the foundations of larger structures,” says Oslé. That means “something that feels less like a telecom doing some fiction to see if it works and more like a company that is really building a business or an area, something that is meant to last.”

Movistar Plus’ multi-front play for growth looks inevitable.

Increasingly audience sophistication makes scale ever more necessary, Oslé says.

“We couldn’t get away now with the [production] quality of the past.” Also, “story-wise, some of the stories the audience now love are broader in scope, ambition. … This requires [in some cases] more resources that can only be achieved profitably by ensuring a larger scale. Also, some more ambitious stories benefit from pulling together more diverse resources [thus, larger scale].”

Concurrently, program hours produced by global streaming platforms have skyrocketed from just 119 and 67 for Netflix and Amazon, respectively, in 2014 to 2,769 and 340 five years later, according to María Rua Aguete, at London-based research company Omdia.

Thanks in part to a potential audience of 477 million Spanish-speakers, there is a feeding fever for Spanish-language series, especially from that country. In 2019, Netflix produced more hours of original productions in Spain (163) than any other country outside the U.S., apart from South Korea (238), but on a par with the U.K. (160), according to Omdia analysis.

This creates huge market opportunities for operations including Buendía, which can leverage its partners’ premium TV production experience and success to expand geographically, producing top talent from not just Spain but Latin America.

“It aims to become a reference across the Spanish-speaking world, telling stories from its cultural perspective” says Oslé.

“Movistar Plus has to produce for the world. You can only compete at that global scale, because the world is becoming global and you need to make sure that your content can be distributed globally,” says Rua Aguete.

The streaming platform boom, however, also creates more competition for audience attention and for talent.

“Having more scale makes it easier for talent to develop their different projects within your ecosystem,” Oslé says. “It is very important to understand that my definition of scale is not strictly geographical. It has to do more with diversity and breadth of opportunities than anything else. A clear example of this is how Buendía should have sufficient ‘scale’ to offer a creator the ecosystem to develop very different projects for different media — e.g. for free-to-air local premium like Movistar Plus, global premium like Apple, as well as ‘traditional’ film.”

Equally, “the best talent is driven by the ambition of what they want to create. Whether directors, writers or actors, many have a feeling of legacy, of making work that transcends.”

So scale in terms of pure economic clout may be necessary to persuade talent that a company has the wherewithal to fight for and fulfill a talent’s creative vision, which is key to retaining talent, Oslé adds.

Having pacted with AMC Studios on “La Fortuna” and holding down a strategic production-distribution alliance with Telemundo, expect Movistar Plus to partner with more U.S. companies, in order to compete in a thriving market.