Spanish-Language Giants Sketch Post-COVID 19 Roadmap

John Hopewell

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What’s the way forward for Spanish-speaking TV players in a post COVID-19 landscape?  Executives from four of the region’s biggest players – ViacomCBS, Spain’s Movistar Plus and RTVE, and Colombia’s Caracol Television – thrashed out possible scenarios on Tuesday at an Iberseries online panel. Their answers are hardly industry footnotes. After English and Mandarin, Spanish-language scripted production now doubles French or German in volume of titles, according to a March 2020 Ampere Analysis study, a point picked up on the panel. A post-COVID 19 future looks likely to be spoken rather more en español.

Five tentative conclusions – and there was a fair degree of consensus – from the panel, an industry centerpiece for Iberseries:

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The Bigger Picture

“I assume a global context with six-to-eight big players, playing globally, after recent mergers,” said Guillermo Borensztein, VP of sales and co-production, ViacomCBS International Studios. The immediate future is one of “atomization of offer, a concentration in demand, above all from these big players with own OTTs. Sometimes they’ll link up with local players, who will also team with local or pan-regional platforms to face up to new challenges.” A succinct diagnosis.

Co-Production, Fluid Alliances

This was one point of large agreement since it affected all four panelists. Companies are likely to work more, not less, together in the future. In part this will be a question of pragmatism. With international travel more of a challenge, content producers will look more to overseas production partners to help shoot international scenes, suggested Catalina Porto, executive director of production, Caracol TV.

In a longer-term, international – and national – alliances will flourish, Movistar Plus director general of original content Alex Martínez Roig predicted. In production, these would be mostly “project-by-project,” however.  “We don’t need huge [framework] alliances for everything we develop every year,” he added. “If you’re interested and I’m interested, let’s make a title together. We’ll do it better and quicker and for spectators it will be much more powerful.”

The Power of Local Content

One key, maybe the key to the panel, was the gamut of recent series screened during the panel by the four companies. Borensztein showcased “Los Internacionales,” one of the most robustly international of ViacomCBS Intl. Studios recent series from its multilateral co-production – Spain’s The Mediapro Studio, Argentina’s Cablevision-Flow, Miami-based Olympusat – to its stars, Argentina’s Cecilia Roth and Colombia’s Juan Pablo Shuk, both stars in Spain –  to its action, straddling Colombia and Argentina, and genre: A crime thriller, the most travelled of fiction program types. The series won its timeslot bowing on Argentine broadcast network Telefe on May 20. Porto, by contrast, screened a promo of “Chichipatos,” a Dago Garcia series produced by Caracol TV with a strong local appeal starting with its Columbian title – Porto had to explain what it meant to the panel’s Spanish-speaking online audience. Despite or because of that, it rated No. 1 on Netflix in Colombia from a May 15 release. The challenge is how to find an audience in a globalized TV market, said Lopez Puig. One key for RTVE can be not to lose local referents, he added. Whether Malaga’s mean streets (“Malaka”), or the towering high Pyrenees (“La Caza: Monteperdido”), Spanish elements have been to the fore in high-profile recent RTVE series.

There’s No Going Back

Whatever the world’s like post COVID-19, there’s no return to the Old Normal. This has been an “re-apprenticeship” said Borensztein who, driving down on detail, added that the past months had questioned the need to attend international markets in person. Movistar Plus and the industry at large had put into place communications in matter of weeks innovations which might otherwise have taken four years, agreed Martínez Roig.

Creating IPs

“Los Internacionales” could become a franchise, Borensztein enthised. “La Unidad,” Movistar Plus’ anti-terrorist squad thriller and its biggest banner series first half 2019, could still be seen 20 years from now, Martínez Roig hoped. Series on Movistar Plus tend to be ever more British, six or so episodes, he said. The challenge was to find hits which lasted longer on grids, he added. Creating long-running IPs was the answer.

Distribution: The Pending Question

One of the biggest original content investors in the world, plowing more than $10 billion into own shows in 2019, according to Ampere Analysis, Viacom/CBS can ring the options on distribution, whether on its own platforms, with third parties, or on third-party platforms, Borensztein said.

For Movistar Plus, “We’re local but can be global, though in a different way [from platforms].” In the next months or years, “the need to do business or construct alliances regarding the purchase of rights in various territories” will become all the more apparent, said Martínez Roig.

There’s a question whether fiction can survive on linear channels, said Lopez Puig. As a public broadcaster, RTVE is pretty well tasked to make it and support the national industry. The key is how to position it afterwards, he suggested.

That question becomes all the more important given the appeal of Spanish series in global markets. Globalization for Spain, Lopez Puig suggested, has been a two-way street.

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