TV networks and streamers have tended to monopolise rights, but that mentality is changing in Spain as more collaborative financing models are sought to address increasingly ambitious dramas. Irene Jiménez reports.
Spain is, along with the UK, one of the favourite European countries for streamers to produce fiction series. Data from a recent study by the European Audiovisual Observatory found that 34 shows were produced by streamers on Spanish soil in 2022.
And that number will surely have been maintained in 2023, a year in which Netflix alone has released 12 original Spanish series.
Streamers, including local services Atresplayer and Movistar Plus+, are the main drivers of the fiction industry in Spain, although national public broadcaster RTVE has also been accelerating its own productions.
The same study reveals that only 7% of international co-productions in Europe were fiction series in 2022 and most of them occurred between neighboring countries that, on many occasions, share the same language. In this sense, Spain should be having a more difficult time being a co-producing partner, but the country of La Casa De Papel and Veneno maintains bilateral co-production agreements with countries such as Argentina, Canada, France, Portugal and Uruguay.
Furthermore, ICEX, an institute that promotes the internationalisation of Spanish companies, has identified the US, Canada, the UK, China, Korea, Japan, India and Turkey as strategic markets. With some of the most attractive tax incentive schemes in Europe and being part of the new Eurimages fund for series co-productions, Spain looks set to continue diversifying its financing models and drawing on foreign sources.
Little by little, the mentality of executives and producers is changing in a market in which, traditionally, television networks have limited themselves to carrying out production orders and monopolising all the rights. A good example of openness towards national and international co-production is RTVE, whose on-demand platform, RTVE Play, premiered This Is Not Sweden at the end of November. The drama, a winner of the Prix Europa in 2023, was created by independent Catalan companies Funicular Films and Nanouk Films, and is a co-production of RTVE, the Catalan public broadcaster TV3, the production company Anagram Sweden, SVT of Sweden, NDR of Germany and YLE of Finland, financed with the support of public institutions such as ICEC of Catalonia and MEDIA of Europe.
“The most difficult part of the negotiations has been establishing the release strategy,” says Aina Clotet and Sergi Cameron, the main architects of This Is Not Sweden, which is also the first original scripted series for RTVE Play. As many producers point out, all operators want the first window but having gone through development laboratories such as Torino TFL Next TV Series, the series about the contradictions of parenthood premiered in full on RTVE Play one day after its linear launch on TV3. And the show still has the rest of its international career ahead of it.
This Is Not Sweden followed in the footsteps of Cicatriz, the first co-production between Spain and Serbia. The thriller (8 x 45-minutes), based on the novel of the same name by Spanish author Juan Gómez-Jurado, is led by the independent Spanish company Plano a Plano, which produces with Dopamine and Serbia’s Adrenalin, in association with RTVE, Prime Video España and Telekom Srbija.
Also involved in the project is Asacha Media Group, which presented Cicatriz to the Serbian operator. “What happens in Chicago and Russia in the book happens in Bilbao and Belgrade in the series. We have changed the locations so that the co-production with Serbia makes more sense,” explains Emilio Amaré, general director of Plano a Plano, which has managed to preserve a high percentage of the show’s IP.
The financing scheme also benefits from Bilbao’s high tax incentives. For Telekom Srbija, Cicatriz is its first international project and for this reason it has been “deeply involved in the creative process, including casting and [details around] the Serbian plot. We are sure that the project will bring something new and fresh to the industry,” adds Aleksandra Martinović, director of the multimedia division of Telekom Srbija. Cicatriz will be seen first in Spain on RTVE and then on Amazon’s Prime Video, debuting in September 2024. RTVE is in charge of international sales.
Staying in Europe, Lucio’s Treasure marks Red Arrow Studios International’s first foray into the Spanish market. The miniseries is based on real events about the anarchist Lucio Uturbia, who defrauded a banking entity in the 1980s in true Robin Hood style. It is produced by Vértice 360, which was selected during the pitch sessions of Series Mania Forum, Conecta Fiction and MIA Market in Rome, together with Friki Films, which is based in Catalonia.
“We have been working for two years on the development and financing strategy of Lucio’s Treasure, a project that has a natural structure of international co-production because its protagonist is Spanish, but the story takes place in Paris, and some characters are agents of the American CIA,” comments Rodrigo Herrera, VP of scripted acquisitions & co-productions at Red Arrow Studios International. In addition to its powerful story, Herrera looked at Lucio’s Treasure because it was in an incipient state, “without televisions or platforms on board,” meaning that the rights and distribution were available.
“Our idea is to delve into the collaboration model of multiple partners so as not to depend so much on a television or a platform giving the greenlight to a project,” says Sara Fernández Velasco, CEO of Grupo iZen. With production companies in Spain, the UK and a joint venture in the US called Cacao & Cía, iZen has produced Memento Mori, an exclusive series acquired by Prime Video for Spain and Portugal that has completed its financing with the guaranteed minimum from Newen Connect, which is in charge of international sales. It has also been supported by the contribution of Forta (regional public Spanish broadcaster), tax relief and the Valladolid City Council, which hosted much of the filming.
“In this case, we preserved 100% of the intellectual property, which is wonderful news. Without a doubt, we run more risk, but we can be more agile in our decisions and have more independence. I think it is the most beneficial model for everyone, we are also using it in England and Latin America,” adds Fernández Velasco.
iZen is also working on two especially large projects, one of them about spies in co-production with a UK partner, which will be filmed partly in English in 2024.
Indeed, the Spanish industry has countless examples of Amazon Prime Video ‘exclusive’ models, such as the most popular Spanish series domestically, the comedy La Que Se Cerca, by Contubernio Films, or Zorro, by Secuoya Studios, which unveiled its first international sales at MIPCOM 2023 via Mediawan Rights. There is also Parot, from Onza, whose sequel, Perverso, will be ready this year.
Partnerships are also being struck further afield, with several agreements announced between Spanish and Turkish companies. Across the pond in the US, several Spanish companies have chosen to open offices in LA, Miami and Mexico, while others have a network of companies in the region to produce directly from the Americas.
This is necessary because despite sharing a language and some history, co-production between Spain and Latin America is not as easy as it seems. The signs are positive, however, with Mediapro Studio’s development and production alliance with ViX delivering titles such as Las Pelotaris, 1926.
The TelevisaUnivision-owned streamer has also worked with another Spanish company, Onza Americas, on one of its 2023 series, Isla Brava, and maintains an agreement with the Spanish writer María Dueñas (The Time Between Seams) from which Los Artistas has already emerged. It is a co-production between Mexico’s 360 Powwow and Spain’s Isla Audiovisual that has released on Prime Video in Spain.
Other companies such as The Immigrant, which is backed by Fremantle, have made the trip in reverse and have landed in Madrid after beginning their journey in LA, Miami or Mexico.
Transatlantic relationships between streamers and networks are also evolving. Movistar Plus+, which in 2023 launched nine original fiction series, has collaborated with Telemundo on shows such as Tell Me Who I Am, El Inmortal and, more recently, The Dentist and Bellas Artes. The latter is a comedy created by Argentines Andrés Duprat, Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat that will premiere in Latin America through Disney’s Star+ and will arrive in Spain through Movistar Plus+.
The Dentist, meanwhile, is a suspense period thriller that was filmed in Mexico with Chileans Pablo and Juan de Dios Larraín as producers. In this case, the series will premiere on ViX for America and in Spain through Movistar Plus+, which will also manage international sales of the fiction. It is another example of how companies are feeding their services while optimising budgets.