In late April, Banijay Iberia moved waves by taking an equity stake in Alex de la Iglesia and Carolina Bang’s Pokeespsie Films, with the aim of scaling up on its Spanish-language high-end original series and fiction production.
Via Shine Iberia, Banijay is also producing biopic “Bosé,” one of VIS’ biggest Spanish-language plays for Paramount Plus, about singer-songwriter Miguel Bosé.
Best known for its entertainment formats – though it does own Barcelona’s Diagonal TV, producer of hit Netflix historical sagas “Cathedral of the Sea” and “Heirs to the Land” and DLO Producciones, behind “Tell Me Who I Am” and “El Immortal,” – Banijay is now moving to strengthen its position in scripted in the Iberian market and, via it, across the globe.
That is seen at Conecta Fiction, which runs June 21-24 in Toledo, Spain, where Banijay will have one of the biggest presences of any global company at the TV co-production forum, with Lars Blomgren, Banijay head of scripted, teaming with Maria Rua Aguete, Omdia senior research director, to deliver a first full day keynote on Wednesday on Global Fiction Trends, Consumer Choices & The Future of Fiction TV in a Streaming World.
James Townley, Banijay’s global head of content development, who overseas new non-scripted IP, will also speak at Conecta Fiction; Pilar Blasco, CEO of Banijay Iberia, will engage in a conversation with María José Rodríguez, head of Spanish originals at Amazon’s Prime Video.
In the run up to Conecta Fiction, Variety talked with Blomgren about Banijay’s plans to ramp up its series and fiction output in the Spanish-speaking world.
At Conecta Fiction, you’ll deliver a keynote on global TV fiction trends. Could you anticipate at least one which will part determine business at Conecta Fiction itself?
The most obvious is that business is now more focused on language than borders. It’s a big difference given Spanish language is so huge and talent can come from anywhere. It’s a new world. That’s why there’s so much buzz around Conecta Fiction this year. Everyone’s talking about the Hispanic world. So its timing is perfect. Another takeaway: the demand for quality is ever increasing. Volume production may disappear. High-end bigger shows will attract subscribers. That’s what you see from top 10 lists. And Spain and the Hispanic world are famous for delivering high-end projects on reasonable budgets.
Conecta Fiction is an international co-production forum. Do you see this as a growth model? And if so, why? And what are the challenges?
Banijay is an IP-driven company. So co-production is our preferred model. We have a lot of different forms such as ventures between the U.S. and U.K. or “Dance Brothers,” with Netflix and YLE, Finland’s public broadcaster. Sometimes co-production is the only possible model. We love working with streamers. We’re used to working it with different broadcasters. Also, we’re a big group, with 55 really good scripted production companies, so we collaborate a lot across the group. For example, we’re making “Then You Run” for Sky with the U.K.’s Kudos and Germany’s MadeFor, both Banijay companies, and projects between Italy and the U.K. and Italy and Spain. That’s important for us.
For Banijay, I’d imagine that co-production isn’t just about finance but having different expertise feeding into a project…
Yes, absolutely, Especially on cross border shows like “The Bridge,” it’s extremely valuable to have the input from the two different countries. It’s also in everyone’s comfort zone. In Europe, we’re so used to co-productions, to having multiple broadcasters and trying to balance all their notes. We’re not yet near the U.S. model where one broadcaster is in a much stronger position. We’re slower in development.
But every production is its own story…
Yes, if we can get a good co-production in place, I usually prefer it because we keep IP and have a different kind of control. But, for instance, Banijay’s Filmlance co-produced “Scenes from a Marriage” with HBO, which was directed by Hagai Levi and starred Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain. Having the curation of a company on that level is like being in paradise. You have the best directors and creative team on the planet and the best commissioner on the planet. That’s a match made in heaven.
And the challenges of co-production?
The biggest – an enormous challenge all over Europe – is that linear channels are struggling to justify investments that allow us to get to the creative level we want to be on. I see so many projects that have 10% to 15% or even 20% of the top financing missing. The challenge is that on the scripted side, budgets are higher but margins are lower. So if you take 10% out of a budget, you’ll also take 10% away out of the creative promise. You’re not just taking margins away, you’re taking away screen value. Also, if you finance the first 80% on that level, you can’t just go back to broadcasters and say: “We want your money. But we’re not going to keep our promises because we haven’t got the final part.”
A second is that Banijay has an amazing distribution side. But like everyone else, it also has its financial targets and the risk is always higher on a non-English language show. So there are no shortcuts.
With regard to non-English shows, Filmlance produced the original “The Bridge,” a seminal show which opened doors for non-English language shows. Did that have an emotional impact on you, now forming part of your professional DNA, as it were.
It’s one of our milestones and an amazing experience for me, personally, of course – the fact that we attracted such audiences, especially in the U.K. It was such a door opener. Suddenly, we had access to new talent, to new commissioners. Now the trend is more for ultra or hyper-local shows. But “The Bridge” gave us guts: We know we can produce shows that travel. That’s part of the DNA of the group, for sure.
You’ve bought into Pokeepsie. Shine Iberia is a key producer on “Bosé.” Is Banijay looking to ramp up investment in Spain or indeed, the Spanish-speaking world?
We love Pokeepsie. Its quality. It’s broad audience but totally professional. Its horror can travel everywhere.
In general, the reason why we’re so present at Conecta Fiction is because we really believe in this. There’s always been a strong connection on the feature side between Spain, Mexico and Hollywood. We’d just love to establish this on the TV side as well. We have really brilliant Spanish companies. We had a meeting in Madrid a few weeks ago when Flavio [Morales], who runs the U.S. Hispanic side, came over as well. This is a big priority for us.