Telefonica’s Movistar Plus, Spain’s biggest pay-TV/SVOD operator, has launched an in-house overseas sales division, Movistar Plus Internacional, headed up by former Sony and Buendía Estudios exec Maria Valenzuela. 

Lorena Molloy, an ex-exec at The Mediapro Studio, has joined Movistar Plus Internacional beginning in March as its head of communication and marketing. 

Valenzuela, who began working with the platform last summer, heading international strategy and business development, reports directly to Domingo Corral, Movistar Plus’ director of original production.

Movistar Plus Internacional is making further appointments, raising staff to around 10 employees, Valenzuela said. It will attend all major markets, beginning with Series Mania and MipTV/Canneseries, focusing at least in the short term on sales to Europe, Eastern Europe, U.S. and Latin America, she added.  

Presented officially on March 4 in Madrid, the new distribution arm comes after Movistar Plus, Spain’s biggest content investor, has until recently used third-party companies to handle international distribution of its high-end series. These take in the U.K.’s Sky Vision (“The Plague”), France’s About Premium Content (“Giants,” “The Invisible Line”) and Studiocanal (“On Death Row”) and, above all, Germany’s Beta Film, which announced a multi-year co-production-distribution alliance with Movistar Plus in 2019, having already delivered bullish sales on titles such as “The Pier.” 

Scaling Up Operations

Why Movistar Plus is moving into direct distribution overseas is another matter. 

Involving the creation of a back office for contracts and legal affairs, plus presence at key markets, direct distribution requires scale. From the release of its first series, “Velvet Collection,” in September 2017, Movistar Plus has set itself apart by producing high-end series which talked about Spanish realities, hallmarks and singularities while standing out for their auteurist voices, whether Spain’s top TV writers, such as “Velvet’s” Ramon Campos and “Money Heist’s” Alex Pina, or its foremost film directors, like Alberto Rodríguez (“The Plague”), Mariano Barroso (“What the Future Holds”), Rodrigo Sorogoyen (“Riot Police”) and Alejandro Amenábar (“La Fortuna”). 

Backed by European telco giant Telefonica, whose 2016 revenues of €52 billion ($62.4 billion) were seven times those of Netflix ($8.83 billion) at the time, these could be made when required at a budgetary ambition unparalleled in Spain. “The Plague,” a six hour series, used 130 locations, a 200-technician crew, 2,000 extras and VFX to re-create 1580s Seville. Its budget of $1.8 million per episode ranked at the time alongside high-end Canal Plus France series such as “Séction Zero,” produced by Luc Besson.

Scripted series production remains the backbone of Movistar Plus output. Bowing Jan. 22, the Filmax-produced “They All Lie” (“Todos Mienten”), Pau Freixas’ dramedic murder mystery thriller set in an exclusive residential community on the coast, was seen by nearly as many households as Rafael Nadal’s Australian Open win. “That’s why Telefonica, our parent company, is continuing to support our original production and wants more, not less,” said Corral. 

Since 2017, Movistar Plus has produced 34 series, 54 seasons, 4 movies (including a “Libertad” film spin-off), and 391 episodes. 

But, unlike, say, NENT’s Viaplay, Movistar Plus has never been in the volume business, releasing 9-11 new or returning original series a year.

That has now changed. From 2016’s “Late Motiv,” airing on then new channel #0, and 2019’s “ETA, el final del silencio,”  Movistar Plus has plowed into entertainment  and non-fiction original production respectively, to sometimes stellar success. Released in November, “Lola,” a bio series on a towering figure of Spanish flamenco, Lola Flores, has proved the most-watched documentary ever on Movistar Plus, said Purificación González, its director of communication, marketing and social content. 

Ramping Up Movie Production 

The platform released in 2019 its first original movie, Alejandro Amenábar’s “While at War,” a box office hit earning €10.95 million ($11.94 million) in Spain that year. It went on to become the most-watched movie of any nationality on Movistar Plus in 2020. 

The pay TV operator will world premiere its second original movie, “Canallas” from actor-turned-writer-director Daniel Guzmán (“Nothing in Return”) in main competition at this month’s Málaga Film Festival. A third title, Alberto Rodríguez’s “Modelo 77,” reprising the director’s analysis of historical change – or lack of it – ushered in by Spain’s 1975-82 transition to democracy, looks set to bow later this year.

“The direct international distribution operation will handle not only Movistar Plus’ original series, but its non-fiction series, movies, entertainment shows with overseas potential, and sports productions,” Corral said Friday. 

Movistar Plus will ring its options on movie financing, ranging from 100% of an Original to majority or minority co-production or straight acquisition. Nearly all Movistar Plus movies will enjoy an exclusive theatrical window in Spain. International is “fundamental” for film production: “I think Spanish cinema can generate larger revenues in foreign markets,” Corral added.   

Premium Content in Spain: The Massive Demand

For Corral, “If this new market move demonstrates anything, it’s that the bet on original local content is fundamental and vital, and we’ll be ramping up production.”

Movistar Plus Internacional launches as the international demand for high-end original series from Spain has never been greater. According to Ampere Analysis, even in 2020, Netflix and Amazon invested about €300 million ($327 million) in Spanish originals, a figure higher than that for any other country in Europe, apart from the U.K. 

“We need to generates revenues, that’s incredibly important,” Corral recognised. Going direct will also allow Movistar Plus “to go on finding great partners, as we have to date, to co-produce and make ambitious content, and allow the work of our creators to achieve international reach,” said Corral, citing “La Fortuna,” made in partnership with AMC and sold by Beta Film.

Distributing directly, Movistar Plus can play off its specialist knowledge of Spanish content, fore-fronting its creators and producers who have large caché in international, said Valenzuela. It also allows “a close contact with international partners, that we’re closer to their tastes when asking what content we should make and what reach it could have. We can also ensure a necessary focus and attention for our content in international,” she added.

Riot Police: A Milestone Hit

Direct distribution also rolls off Movistar Plus’ experience handling international sales on Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s “Riot Police” (“Antidisturbios”), a humanizing vision of a six-man intervention unit shot with extraordinary verve by Sorogoyen. 

“At first, nobody wanted it,” said Corral. With Valenzuela on board selling her first title, the critique of six men failing to meet the traditional standards of masculinity set by society struck a big multi-territory deal for Europe with Disney Plus and slotted into Movistar Plus’ framework deal for Latin America with HBO Max. With “Hierro,” “The Pier” and “Perfect Life,” “Riot Police” rates as one of Movistar Plus’ biggest hits in international, Corral said.

Movistar Plus’ Relation with Beta Film    

Current partnerships, such as with Beta Film, which lapses in 2023, will of course be honored, said Valenzuela. Beta Film and other past distributors will also handle returning seasons on titles they have acquired, with Movistar Plus’ support. The Spanish platform will also sign third party or co-distribution deals on specific titles, she added.

Beta Film struck stellar deals on titles such as “The Pier” and Canneseries 2019 double winner “Perfect Life,” whose second season is co-produced for the U.S. by HBO Max.  “The experience with Beta Film has been highly positive and we’re very thankful to them. If we can find opportunities to co-produce with them on future titles, we’d be delighted,” said Corral. 

Key co-production pacts, such as with AMC on La Fortuna,” giving AMC rights to the U.S., Canada, U.K, Latin America and the Caribbean, have also given Movistar Plus large distribution reach. Corral told a select group of journalists on Friday that Movistar Plus was currently in talks with international groups for multi-title production/distribution agreements.

“We stand by the Spanish industry. The Spanish series we make could only be made from here. I’m passionate and proud about forming part of Spain’s content industry and that European content has a relevance in the world,” González said. 

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“Canallas” Courtesy of Malaga Festival - Lisbeth Salas