As global SVOD operators and local pay TV rivals power ever more the future of film and TV in Europe, French state-backed Orange, one of Europe’s biggest telecoms groups, made available in Spain on July 10 its first full Spanish original series, the adrenaline sluiced horror thriller “Caminantes.”
Orange’s first series in Spain marks the full arrival of a new, deep-pocketed producer on Spain’s booming drama series production scene as well as what looks like another significant commitment by a Spanish telecom to premium content in an ever more competitive market, where Telefonica’s Movistar Plus began to produce around 11 original series a year from September 2017.
Directed by “Money Heist’s” Koldo Serra, and produced by The Mediapro’s Studio’s 100 Balas, “Caminantes” comes hot on the heels of the exclusive release by Orange of two other TMS series: Antarctic survival thriller “The Head,” whose cast includes “Money Heist’s” Alvaro Morte, which bowed on Orange Spain from June 12, and Costa del Sol-set Nordic Noir crime thriller “The Paradise,” airing from June 25.
Orange Spain now plans to make further announcements of new productions from September, said Josep Maria Rabes, director of Orange TV in Spain.
Telecoms’ appetite for content, whether as distributor-aggregators or creators, is a crucial issue in Europe’s post-lockdown media landscape whose TV ad market has been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Orange’s move into original production in Spain also adds a new wrinkle to its original content strategy.
In France, under Stephane Richard, CEO since 2011, Orange has upped its content commitment step-by-step, producing half-hour TV series at OCS, and in 2017 creating Orange Content. Inaugurating a French theatrical distribution arrangement and launching an international sales division, Orange Studio began from 2017 to acquire, produce or co-produce high-end drama series.
Teaming with OCS, on the eve of last year’s Series Mania, Orange unveiled the France-England ferry-set “Cheyenne & Lola,” from “Spiral’s” Virginie Brac, to be delivered in September or October; the ballet-themed drama “The Opera,” written by Cécile Ducrocq (“The Bureau,” “Call My Agent!”), whose shoot is due to start in August.
A third series, “Les Sentinelles,” penned by Thibault Valetoux (“Profilage”) and Frédéric Krivine (“Un Village Francais”), which follows a group of young French soldiers who fall into a trap while on a mission in a dangerous African region, will shoot in Morocco from this fall.
The question for Orange in France, where it is the incumbent telecom, is whether to hike its commitment to content or ally with Canal Plus.
In Spain, as in France, Orange has pursued a distribution strategy of offering subscribers all third-party content available, clinching ad hoc carriage agreements with Netflix, Amazon, AMC, Fox, AXN, Rakuten, Starz and FlixOle, and allowing clients to download Android TV apps via its Android TV service, which gives them access to such services as Disney Plus.
It has invested in Spanish movies since 2013. Since then, Spain has grown into one of the most competitive telecom markets in Europe with five national telecoms operators after Euskatel, a Basque Country-based telecoms company, launched mobile, broadband and TV bundles across Spain in May. In pay TV subscribers, Orange Spain had 698,000 household accounts first quarter 2020. That made it just the seventh biggest pay TV/SVOD operator, behind Netflix (4.7 million), Telefonica’s Movistar Plus (4 million), Vodafone (1.4 million), Amazon (1.4 million), and HBO (768,000), according to estimates by research-analysis company Omdia.
If an aggregator has become a creator, first co-producing Spanish movies and now moving into original series production, it’s “to give clients an element of exclusivity,” Josep Rabes said.
“At a time of such enormous competition in Spain’s telecoms sector, we aim for our TV offer to hook our clients, and we’re achieving that. Orange TV is a key factor in increasing customer loyalty,” he added.
The drive into Spanish series production also comes as series are an increasing market phenomenon, in and outside Spain. 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.
“At a time when Spanish content is such a hot topic, producing the first Orange original in Spain makes a lot of sense,” said Maria Rua Aguete, senior research director for Omdia’s consumer research group, media and entertainment.
She added: “It’s a fantastic marketing tool to win subscribers, to be relevant in the market where Orange has so much competition.”
Created and written by The Mediapro Studio development executive José Antonio Pérez Ledo (“Orbita Laika,” ”Estación Apolo”) the eight-part short format series also marks a high-concept attempt to leverage its characters’ – and Orange’s young adult viewers’ – mobile phone fixation, said Rabes.
It begins with the discovery of the buried smartphones and backpacks of five young friends who disappeared a fortnight before in the Selva de Irati forest while walking the St. James Way in northern Spain. The found (mobile video) footage – the five friends record everything, even when under attack – allows detectives to reconstruct what happened.
Serra filmed the whole series in sequence shots with two iPhone 11s and two iPhone 10 XSs, configured as professional cameras.
“We’d shoot six-to-eight pages of script in one sequence shot, which meant rehearsing a lot with actors to maintain the rhythm of scenes. I’d come from series which were much more classical, orthodox, shot, counter-shot, general shots. ‘Caminantes’ was very different,” Serra said on a Zoom presentation of the series with key creatives and cast.
According to ‘Caminantes’ producer Alejandro Flores, at The Mediapro Studio’s 100 Balas, the series has firm offers from potential clients in international, where “Caminantes” is distributed by The Mediapro Studio Distribution. Potential distributors are interested in two things, he added: “The series itself, and the format.”