Few European TV execs have a better sense of the bigger picture than Movistar Plus president Sergio Oslé. Variety caught up with him as HBO Max announced it had acquired “Perfect Life” for the U.S. and committed to produce a second season with Movistar Plus, the pay-TV arm of telco giant Telefonica, which has also wrapped the first Spanish shoot on Alejandro Amenábar’s “La Fortuna,” produced with AMC Studios.

Here, Oslé reflects on how Movistar Plus has found its own audience; puts production value before production volume; and how upscale drama series now form part of a larger cultural conversation.

Through to the mid-2000s, national fiction dominated free-to-air and U.S. series and movies largely made the running on pay TV. Movistar’s 2020 results — where its five top shows were all Movistar Plus original series — suggests some kind of paradigm shift. Would you agree?

People are now watching television more than ever, and that’s a combination of foreign fiction that can works very well — “The Mandalorian” or “The Queen’s Gambit” — but is often offered using different distribution methods to the past, such as Netflix, Disney Plus and HBO. But that’s mixed with local fiction, which is now often watched on local pay TV or new distribution services, such as “Veneno,” which first bowed on Atresmedia’s SVOD service, Atresplayer.  In contrast, national fiction no longer dominates local free-to-air primetime as it used to.

“Tell Me Who I Am,” a Movistar Plus-Telemundo International Studios production, was the most watched show on Movistar Plus over Christmas. If you’ve found an audience, what kind of audience is it?

There’s a space that we can occupy and there’s not going to be many people occupying it, a place where we feel very, very comfortable now: high quality, mature fiction, or non-fiction that at the same time feels very local but hasn’t been seen before, at least in this market, and that a lot of people who are looking for content really like. I strongly believe that this is where we have an edge.

Movistar Plus series such as “The Invisible Line” and “Riot Police” now form a central part of Spain’s cultural conversation…    

It’s very difficult to have a conversation about “Riot Police” that lasts just 30 seconds! Two or three decades ago, we used to have mass-audience entertainment shows or movies where we discussed their themes, what the creator was trying to say. That hasn’t been happening recently, especially with movies, because these kinds of works are not so easily available to general audiences. The beauty of this is that you can see Movistar Plus series and be entertained but have a conversation around so many other things. That’s what we are trying to go for: thought-provoking titles.

I was talking to Françoise Guyonnet, head of TV at Studiocanal, who said that Canal Plus and Studiocanal aimed for production value not volume. That could be said of Movistar Plus. You’re releasing about 11 new or returning series a year.  

We’re a different animal from some global players, a distributor of third-party content: fiction and sports. It was very clear for us that our original fiction was meant to complement our inventory, not be substantial. We want our series to give us soul, tone, to differentiate us from other providers that in some cases are aggregating the same products. We also want our series to complement our inventory with shows that we think will be attractive to some of our customers, but are not out there for us to buy. Because when you look for series like [Alex Pina and Esther Martínez-Lobato’s women’s emancipation drama] “The Pier,” you could go for “The Affair” but people in “The Affair” are not from our culture, so you cannot provide [exactly the same] attraction of “The Pier” by buying “The Affair.”

Netflix has capitalized on making series in Spain that sometimes break out to large audiences. The challenge for many companies is producing as many shows as Netflix. This isn’t a problem, however, for Movistar Plus, which has a robust production volume.

Making local series and making them in Spain or Brazil is very economical compared to the U.S. or U.K.. Before, when there wasn’t this kind of direct-to-consumer distribution, you could make big movies or shows in Spain because they were economical, but distributing them was a costly matter. Now you can spread the risk and distribution is free basically. If you make 10 shows in Spain and one travels around the world with moderate access globally, then the bet already pays off. It makes a lot of sense. But it would be extremely hard for us to run this if we only did three shows a year. The challenge for some companies may be to have a big enough portfolio in Spain to be able to hedge one’s bets. It works for us, but only if you really go that route.

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Riot Police Courtesy of Lidia Mosquera Beceiro/Movistar Plus