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Theme Festival - Non-English-language Drama

Programming Profile

Non-English literary adaptations are a turn-up for the books


Demand for non-English-language drama has flourished thanks to streaming and, as in the English-language sector, the impact is now being felt in the market for literary IP.


International demand for drama in languages other than English has been rising for years but seems to have taken another leap forward in recent months, as demonstrated at the various trade fairs and conferences so far this year.


Sometimes it’s South Korean dramas hogging the headlines and landing the big deals, other times it’s Turkish or Japanese. But for a while now Spanish-language content has been much sought after, following growing demand for such programming among the global streamers and the apparent implosion of the English-language US industry in recent months.


The US studios are getting back up to speed, for sure, but the fact is the number of US scripted series released last year plummeted by 24% to 481, down from 630-plus in both 2021 and 2022. The race to fill that vacuum in the global market is on and Latin American producers are in a good position to benefit while the window remains open, as demand for non-English content soars and the cost differential between Hollywood and Lat Am pays dividends down south.


“La Casa de Papel
La Cada de Papel

For some time it’s been known that shows and movies from Spain and Latin America are among the most-watched non-English-language titles on Netflix, according to the latest What We Watched report from the streamer, with shows like Spain’s La Casa de Papel and Mexican telenovela La Reina del Sur among the streamer’s top non-English series of all time.


But as demand for Spanish-language content soars, activity in the licensing of literary rights is heating up too, as producers seek new storylines to turn into TV content. Traditionally, one of the big differences between the Latin American production sector and Hollywood is just how much the latter relies on literary adaptations compared with the former. Novels account for roughly half of scripted series in the US, particularly since the rise of streaming, while the number of novels getting the TV treatment is traditionally far lower in Lat Am.


Things might be changing. In recent months, we’ve seen signs that the Spanish-language literary adaptation market is hotting up, as studios turn to novels to feed growing demand for content. US-based producers like Wild Sheep Content have spotted an opportunity here, with Erik Barmack’s prodco buying up TV rights to Spanish-language literary works such as Angy Skay’s novel Matar a la Reina and David Olivas’s novel El Susurro del Angel to adapt.


“Books allow you to build on an already established audience and the commissioner can visualise what the story will look like without the need for tons of development. For us, it is an important part of our strategy,” explains Barmack. Given how the volume of Lat Am drama being made each year looks set to grow, this market for literary rights could get even hotter.


“La Reina del Sur S2
La Reina del Sur S2

At Content Americas in January, for instance, Mexico’s Endemol Shine Boomdog picked up rights to the novel Revolución by renowned Spanish author Arturo Pérez-Reverte for adaptation into a series, with Kate del Castillo’s Cholawood Productions attached. Furthermore, Scenic Rights, a Madrid-based agency specialising in audiovisual adaptation rights, and Spanish consultancy GECA recently announced a detailed study of the performance of shows based on established IP compared with those based on original ideas.


Furthermore, BBC Studios-owned Spanish production company Brutal Media, for example, this week appointed Spanish producer and Buendía Estudios alumna Amparo Miralles as its new director of fiction with a specific remit to explore more literary adaptations to sit alongside the company’s original works. A similar move was seen at European production giant Banijay earlier this year, when it hired former All3Media exec Hannah Griffiths as its first head of adaptations as it looks to expand its pipeline of book-to-screen remakes.


Having your show based on an existing hit also reduces risk for coproduction partners. One of the big new shows at Series Mania in March was Scar (Cicatriz), a series based on Spanish author Juan Gómez-Jurado’s novel that has already brought together partners from Spain, Hungary, Serbia and Poland. RTL in Hungary joins RTVE and Prime Video in Spain, Telekom Srbija and Canal+ Poland on the 8×50’ project, which is produced by Spain’s Plano a Plano and Dopamine of Mexico and backed by Fremantle-owned Asacha Media Group.


Spanish-language literary adaptations are not just being watched, they’re also winning awards. For example, Prime Video’s adaptation of Gabriel García Márquez’s novel Noticia de un Secuestro won best drama at the Rose d’Or Latinos at Content Americas. It’s no wonder the market for TV rights to literary works is warming up, given how demand for Spanish-language content is soaring.


“Noticia de un secuestro
Noticia de un secuestro

This was highlighted at MipTV last week when senior executives bemoaned the sudden and “crazy” escalation in the cost of securing the rights to adapt literary IP, as commissioners continue to demand projects that reduce risk.


Steve Matthews, content executive at European production giant Banijay, said on one MipTV panel: “The book market has immediately shot up crazily. It’s in response to the conservative nature of buyers. They’re looking for more proof of concept than they were a few years ago, when they were prepared to take on more risk.”


Producers in the English-language market are well used to this competition for literary properties and are equally used to paying through the nose for those rights. But it seems that as demand for non-English-language content goes up, so does the cost of rights to adapt non-English literary IP.


Elisabeth d’Arvieu, CEO of Mediawan Pictures, who was also on the MipTV panel, said: “The cost of IPs has risen a lot because TV commissioners are less willing to take risks in the current market and are looking for projects based on proven material.”



She revealed she was getting used to bidding wars for literary IP, with one example being the company’s recent deal to adapt the 2018 book Changer l’Eau des Fleurs (Fresh Water for Flowers) by Valerie Perrin. “It has sold four million copies around the world and there was huge competition to adapt it,” said d’Arvieu.


At MipTV, the production line for non-English-language shows based on non-English literary IP continued to lengthen, with Tom Winchester’s Pure Fiction Television picking up the TV rights to bestselling author Dolores Redondo’s Baztan Trilogy and the prequel La Cara Norte Del Corazón (The North Face of The Heart) to turn into dual-language (Spanish and English) drama series.


As non-English-language content continues to grow in viewership, quality and significance, producers will continue to scour the book shelves for works to adapt the machine. Whether it’s Spanish-language, Turkish, Korean or Greek, you can bet your bottom dollar – or peso, won, lira or euro – that the price of TV adaptation rights is only going to go one way.