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An essential market-by-market guide to the worldwide content business.

Spain's gains

Amid the boom in non-English-language content, foreign investment in Spain is rocketing as international players look to reach the 500 million people around the world who speak Spanish.

Pilar Blasco

Among all the non-English-language content now being watched around the world, Spanish series such as Money Heist and Elite have become some of the most prized.

The boom in consumption of Spanish-language programming has led to companies from around the world swooping on local producers in Spain to gain a foothold in the region. Other ways of entering the market have included agreeing joint-venture deals on projects and setting up studios in the country. Netflix, for example, expanded its studio space in Madrid in April, having opened a hub there in 2018.

Companies from France, Italy, the UK and more are all getting in on the act – but for what reasons, and what do they expect to get out of these ventures?

Production and distribution giant Banijay expanded its presence in Iberia with its purchase of Endemol Shine Group last year, and now owns eight prodcos across Spain and Portugal. Banijay Iberia country manager Pilar Blasco says the expansion of foreign companies into Spain is due to changing market demands: “Nowadays, Spain is attracting a lot of interest from the international players – not only streamers, but other UK- or US-based broadcasters too. The reasons are clear to me: we’re professionals with good content, good creatives and competitive budgets.”

Banijay supports all its production companies from a distance, with Blasco saying that their independence is key to maintaining the variety of their output. Banijay can assist with anything from development to post, and while Blasco knows what’s going on among the eight subsidiaries, she says Banijay’s clients need to feel that each of its companies offers something different. This, she adds, is vital to maintaining the competition that has led to the quality content coming out of Spain in the first place.

Movistar+ drama series La Zona

Blasco also highlights the money the Spanish government is putting into the production industry to make it more competitive globally. The fact that the government has identified TV as a route out of Spain’s recent financial troubles was enough to convince TF1-owned French prodco Newen to buy two Spanish companies in the space of two weeks earlier this year, local production group iZen and prodco Kubik Films. The former’s output includes Netflix’s first Spanish reality show, Insiders, while Kubik is behind award-winning Movistar+ drama series La Zona.

Newen Group MD Romain Bessi said at the time of the iZen acquisition in late April that his company was extending its business in Spain because of the size of the market, with more than 500 million people around the world who speak Spanish. “Spanish-language content is more attractive to global players than it has ever been and we want to benefit from Spanish and European IP and expand it globally. There is also strong government support for the production industry in Spain and production costs are lower than they are in France, the UK or Germany. Overall, there is financial support, content that can travel as a format or finished tape and talent in Spain both on and off camera. It ticks all the boxes,” said Bessi.

At the end of April, UK-based ITV Studios (ITVS) and its Italian production subsidiary Cattleya set up a drama prodco in Madrid called Cattleya Producciones. ITVS MD Lisa Perrin says the move was driven by both buyer demand and the opportunities that Spain presents as a gateway to other territories. “Cattleya had been asked to do Spanish-language productions by streamers, so it felt like a natural move,” Perrin notes.

Romain Bessi

“In Spain in the last five years, the number of new drama commissions has increased five-fold at a time when non-English-language drama is white-hot, and we wanted to get involved with that. However, it’s not just about Spain – it’s about meeting a global demand for premium Spanish-language drama in Latin America and the Hispanic US.”

Perrin says the role ITVS plays is to support Cattleya’s Spanish venture, giving the new prodco creative autonomy to make high-end drama that it hopes will attract audiences around the world. New Cattleya Producciones MD Arturo Díaz knows the local industry well, having worked at Spanish broadcaster Atresmedia before spending the past five years at Netflix. He says Cattleya is aiming to make projects with a variety of buyers, including US-based players and the domestic networks.

“The situation here is unique, as we have the newest streaming platforms – Netflix Amazon, Disney+ and HBO Max – making local content for the first time. Then we also have a Spanish broadcaster with a lot of experience like Movistar,” Díaz says. “If we’re looking at the biggest recent Spanish hits, they were made by the older national broadcasters. As well as having the biggest shows, those broadcasters are now reinventing themselves for the modern day, so they’re a very interesting opportunity still.”

Top-level creative talent, access to the Americas and government benefits are all reasons European companies have been trying to get involved with the Spanish industry. Now that they’re there, however, how can they stand out from the established producers and networks that have already done so much for Spanish content?

Díaz says Cattleya Producciones has the advantage of being backed by a major player in ITVS, which can send Cattleya’s shows out through its global distribution pipeline. When it comes to standing out from other global players in the region, however, he says quality is what counts: “If I think about standing out from the crowd, the first word that comes to my mind is ‘premium.’ Premium is a quality standard that goes from the way we do deals to delivering a show, and that premium brand comes from a company’s output.

“That’s the way we are going to differentiate ourselves – having local content that can travel internationally and compete at the same level of other international producers.”

La casa de papel (Money Heist) has found a global audience thanks to Netflix

However, Díaz is keen not to put too much focus on making a show internationally appealing, as he feels that they key element of foreign success is a local flavour.
From his experience working in Spain, he says the shows that have travelled well have been the ones that have resonated with home audiences first. If a show has been a local success, buyers are more likely to be curious about it, he adds.

Meanwhile, Perrin says that as well as a local focus, Cattleya puts its own stamp on its shows to help them stand out: “Spain and the Spanish-language market is incredibly competitive at the moment, but it can only be a good thing that Cattleya Producciones is bringing fresh stories to the market. Cattleya is known for a certain genre and we will be building on that in Spain as well, aiming to produce shows of the same quality.”

While French, UK and Italian companies have recently been acquiring, setting up and collaborating with Spanish producers, some local prodcos have operated under the ownership of major national companies for years. Buendía Estudios, for example, is jointly owned by Spanish broadcaster Atresmedia and telco Telefónica, known for making the local version of reality format RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Ignacio Corrales, Buendía Estudios’ MD, says he is very happy being owned by domestic companies with links to the rest of the Hispanic world: “We make our content for the international market, and our parent companies help with the distribution pipeline from Spain to Latin America and the rest of the world. This ends up being a two-way street, as they can bring the best from those territories to their domestic markets.

Arturo Díaz

“It’s that combination of local and global that we’re after. We want to be a platform for other Spanish or Latin American producers to get on board and open the playing field. Ultimately, Telefónica and Atresmedia have that reach, and we want more partners to come on board the ship.”

With firms like Buendía Estudios enjoying a steady stream of content to and from Latin America, how does a Spanish producer benefit from being in business with a French or Italian-owned company like iZen or Cattleya, whose reach extends to countries rather than continents?

Corrales says that while the Hispanic market is important, a show’s ability to corner a variety of markets can help Spanish prodcos on the business side: “Any foreign company going into business with a local producer has to bring something to the table. The key quality it has is connections with buyers in other territories, while the Spanish company already has the talent but not
the influence.

“A French buyer or collaborator will have contacts in their territory and will know how to sell to them, so that’s half the battle. Joint-venture deals are the same – an Italian collaborator has better access to the market and it’s a stronger pitch than a Spanish company going in alone. A company that can launch a show in multiple territories has a much better chance of holding on to the IP when selling the format, which is key nowadays.”

A potential worry for local producers is that the saturation of the market with foreign players selling their content globally means Spanish companies without that reach will be priced out of the market. Corrales, however, believes the competition is healthy. “It increases competition among producers but it also increases Spain’s overall potential to compete in the international market,” he says.

Netflix’s Elite is set in a private school in Spain

“Spanish producers can expose their work in more and more territories, and this increases their ability to go toe to toe with the big players. Size is everything nowadays, and several European companies are at that international level now. It’s really important that the Spanish industry develops – and the bigger it gets, the better.”

Corrales says that as long as Buendía Estudios keeps the quality of its product up, its shows will sell internationally. He mentions that his company regularly works with local producers on joint ventures and is always looking for more opportunities. What he wants is for the Spanish industry to grow as one, and having European production powerhouses involved enables that to happen.

Expecting the scripted production boom in Spain to peak at some point, Blasco is keen to see other genres benefit from it to maintain the industry’s momentum. And just as streaming has helped bring more Spanish-language drama into people’s homes, she is hopeful entertainment formats could be next.

“We’re going to have a second boom, but in entertainment formats this time, once the scripted rush is over,” Blasco says. “Streamers are starting to commission more and more entertainment, and in Spain we have a long history of making it. We’ve been observing Korea and Turkey’s work in formats and we want to have these kinds of big shows. We’re currently launching a new IP format in Portugal and we want to do more. The next generation of independent streamers will be open to producing new ideas or testing formats in other territories.”