Broadcasters in Central and Eastern European countries have been relying on long-running telenovelas since the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Eastern Bloc. Major Spanish and Portuguese-language producers such as Televisa, Telemundo and Globo forged relationships with these channels years ago. They have sold their 120+ episode drama series into Central and Eastern Europe as the networks have grown, against a backdrop of a burgeoning free market and developing advertising and local production sectors.
Raphael Correa Netto, international sales director at Globo TV International, says: "The Central and Eastern European broadcasters have always been very friendly to Latin American companies. It was a necessity because of the economic, political and social situation. When countries moved to a free market economy, they didn’t have an advertising market or local production industry so they needed foreign programming."
However, in recent years, economic prosperity and media maturity have meant that many broadcasters in the region are eschewing primetime novelas from Latin America and producing their own local original programming instead.
Latin distributors have responded by focusing on new markets, developing relationships in new territories in the region and ramping up format deals and coproduction agreements. They are also moving into other forms of production including factual and reality shows to get content into a wider range of programming slots.
Melissa Pillow, European sales manager at Telemundo Internacional, the NBC-owned Spanish language producer and distributor, says that business is moving further east.
"We’re doing good business in small territories such as Slovenia and the CIS countries. At this MIP TV we’ve started to see people from countries such as Kazakhstan and Belarus," she adds.
Volume deals are quite common between Latin distributors and Eastern European broadcasters. The Latin companies produce such a wealth of novellas that many are happy to sell their entire slates to one broadcaster per country, particularly as prices are modest in certain territories (see price guide box). Acasa TV, the Romanian female skewing free-to-air network owned by pan regional broadcaster Central Media Enterprises (CME), has a number of volume deals – with Televisa – for a package including Patito Feo (Ugly Duckling) and Las Tontas No Van Al Veilo (Dumb Girls Don’t Go To Heaven) – and Globo – for shows including Amazonia and Lazaro Ramos (Snakes&Lizards).
However, other distributors, like Telemundo, are not so keen to get locked in to long term deals, preferring to keep their options open. But the real change in the market has come as broadcasters have started to produce their own local series, both novellas and other dramas, to critical acclaim and commercial success.
"Broadcasters in Central European countries are starting to produce their own series – in-house production is what’s successful for them. This increases as many of these countries move into the European Union," says Pillow.
Russian broadcaster CTC Media, for instance, was one of the biggest buyers of Latin originated content, specifically for its female skewing channel Domashniy. However, a few years ago it decided to start producing its own content.
It commissioned Russian production company A-Media and Sony Pictures Television International to produce Bednaya Nastya (Poor Anastasia). CTC Media programming director Anastasia Bialobzheskaya says: "CTC was the first channel in Russia to commission a long-running novella for prime time."
Following the ratings success of Bednaya Nastya CTC inked deals with a raft of producers including Kosta Film, RWS and Lean-M. It has greenlit shows including a local version of RCN-format Yoy Soy Betty (Ugly Betty), known locally as Ne Rodis’ Krasivoy.
"Since then we commission at least two telenovelas per year, original dramas as well as formatted adaptations and we commission for primetime. Telenovela is a young genre for the Russian market and we see more sense to compete with such shows in prime. The nature of these projects allows us to build on the success for over 100 hours once the audience takes to the story," added Bialobzheskaya.
Acasa TV has also recorded great ratings for shows such as Inima de Tigan (Gipsy Heart) and Razbouil Sexelor (The War of the Sexes), while Slovakia’s Markíza TV produces local series such as Elán je Elán (Elan is Elan) and Susedia (Neighbourhoods).
Local production means less room for Latin companies, particularly as local broadcasters sell locally-produced shows to their fellow channels in the region.
The Baltic Media Alliance, which is a group of broadcasters in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania including Latvian stations RENTV and PBK, is one company that avoids Spanish language programming in favour of Russian-made novellas.
Head of TV programming Agija Rosicka says: "Unfortunately we don’t acquire Latin American telenovelas for our channels. This is because our two channels RENTV Baltia and PBK are orientated for Russian-speaking audiences in these countries and Russian series and telenovelas work better for our viewers than Latino telenovelas."
Latin distributors are looking to format sales to make up the shortfall. A number of deals have already been inked and made it to air, such as Telemundo Internacional’s sale of the Amor Descarado format to Greece’s Mega Channel and Marina in Russia.
But not everyone is in the formats market. "Globo has not been selling scripts for the market," Correa Netto says. "We don’t sell formats but we have been discussing the opportunity."
Televisa, meanwhile, is moving into the formats market in a major way. It has already inked a number of significant deals – in the US with mini-major Lionsgate to reversion its reality hits such as Dancing for the Wedding of My Dreams and in France with production company JLA Groupe to produce local versions of its hit novellas such as Codigo Postal (Baie des Flamboyants).
Claudia Sahab, director of sales, Europe at Televisa Internacional, says that it is talking to production companies in Central and Eastern Europe in an effort to cut similar deals, and corner the market for local adaptations of Spanish-language novellas. "We are willing to cut deals with producers in Eastern Europe. We’re talking with some of the biggest production companies in the region. This is not just for France, it’s for everywhere and is one of the most important movements for Televisa," she says.
While format sales are becoming increasingly important, they still only represent a small percentage of the business done by Latin companies in the region.
Marcel Vinay Jr. president and CEO at Comarex, the international distribution arm of Mexico’s second leading broadcaster TV Azteca, says: "Formats are growing every year but original programming sales still outsell formats in Central and Eastern Europe." Equally, many of the Latin producers do not coproduce in the region, but are beginning to have discussions. Telemundo Internacional is in talks with local producers to coproduce some of its formats. "We don’t co-produce," says Pillow. "But there’s certainly an interest in it. We are working with production companies such as A-Media in Russia."
Another notable move is the expansion of the genres of titles that the Latin distributors offer. Televisa has been ramping up its library of reality shows and has found particular success with Dancing for the Wedding of My Dreams. The format has been sold across the region including Nova TV (Czech Republic), Pro TV (Romania), and Pink TV (Serbia).
Comarex has also diversified away from its core novellas, selling its magazine format Lo Que Collomos Las Mujeres (What We Women Silence), which has over 1,200 dramatized self contained episodes of real-life stories about topics such as drug abuse and domestic violence, to broadcasters in Romania and the Czech Republic.
Globo is selling kids shows such as Pirlimpimpim as well as 13x1hr Brazilian documentary series Globo Doc. "We will have a more clear perspective [of sales] in the middle of the year after Discop. We are not here to be an alternative to Nat Geo and Discovery. But we have an ability to show Brazil in a way that others can’t," says Globo’s Correa Netto.
In terms of taste, Eastern European broadcasters prefer classic tales of love and betrayal over modern, urban novelas, which means there will always be some spots for traditional Spanish-language series. "Eastern Europeans say they don’t care about Latin America," says Pillow. "They’re not ready for the modern novelas with modern music. They look for classical love stories, they don’t like urban novelas with teenagers. The Latins love all novellas but the Europeans are a little more picky."