There’s a new kid in town, who is actually an old kid in town, at the Basque public broadcaster EiTB. After 15 years working at Discovery in the U.K. – latterly as its VP, editorial department, EMEA – Unai Iparragirre has returned to his native Northern Spain and taken over as director of ETB, the TV broadcast network part of the quickly evolving public institution.
As is the case in larger regions, EiTB has big plans for its original programming, whether that’s in fiction, like the broadcaster’s new girls’ soccer drama for kids and teens “Irabazi Arte,” or in educational unscripted series such as “Duelo en las Alturas,” a documentary series about historically significant buildings which have been modernized and given a new purpose.
According to Iparragirre, any new project in the pipeline must strike a balance between respecting the unique cultural heritage of the Basque Country while also demonstrating ambition in the quality, scale and breadth of production. One key growth area he sees is streaming, and to that end ETB is launching its own platform next year.
Iparragirre met with Variety ahead of this year’s San Sebastian festival to discuss his role at the public broadcaster and his plans for its future.
You left the Basque country 15 years ago to work in the U.K. How has the region changed while you were abroad?
We are more diverse, and I think that as a society we are still very proud of being Basque, but we also see ourselves as citizens of the world. We like our traditions and our roots, but we also like modernity and being current.
How have you started your time at EITB? What are some things you’ve looked to do early on in your tenure?
We are conducting a review of our scripted strategy and trying to continue in the direction of going more premium and producing content that we broadcast in the Basque country, but that also sells internationally.
Would that involve working with other international companies?
We’re actively working on developing our co-production strategy. You only have to open a newspaper to see that the big media companies are joining forces and entering new markets and making acquisitions every day. So, if that’s the way the industry is trending, that is something we absolutely must be involved in. We’re already in conversation with several of the biggest media companies in the world on potential co-productions.
How does ETB look at rights ownership for those international co-productions? If you’re working with a big global partner, how do you decide who retains the rights?
The Basque language is only spoken in the Basque country, so that makes rights easier for us. When discussing who retains which rights, we will take Basque language rights for our streaming platform we’re launching next year, but outside the Basque country on any co-production done with non-Basque companies, we’re happy to let them have other language rights. It’s a perfect marriage in that respect.
Are you looking to expand the type of programming being made at ETB?
I think the more content you watch, the more you demand from the content you are watching, and I think that is making every broadcaster, including the most traditional public broadcasters like ETB, adapt to more innovative ways of telling stories. As I said, EiTB is a public broadcaster, and as such we have some duties that we must fulfill, and one of them is providing a public service to the Basque Country. Today’s Basque society is much more diverse than the one I left 15 years ago, and I think naturally that can take time to get used to. So that is one of the areas that we think as a public broadcaster we can help. One of the key genres that we want to explore is content that targets the younger demographic and demonstrates a strong social touch.
Are there plans to get more involved in feature film production in addition to what you’re already doing in series?
We are reviewing our strategy in terms of how we support the film industry and which local producers we’re going to work with on scripted. We don’t know exactly what that will look like yet, but what we do know is that we are 100% committed to being in that space, and we want to be supporting those producers.