Media firms flock to emerging TV series production hub Madrid

By Adrien Vicente  /  AFP, MADRID

Sun, Jul 21, 2019 - Page 16

Media firms are racing to set up TV production centers in Madrid following the runaway global success of Spanish series such as Netflix Inc’s crime caper Money Heist.

Spanish multimedia group Mediapro and its foreign rivals Viacom Inc and Netflix have set up shop or increased their activity in the Spanish capital to meet booming demand for content sparked by the rise of subscription video streaming services.

During a visit to Mediapro’s studios north of Madrid, film crews were busily recording a dialogue between two actresses on a set depicting an upscale law office.

The scene is to be used in a series that the company is producing for Spain’s most watched TV channel, Telecinco.

The company used to produce “two or three” series at that studio per year, now it makes 10 — an “unimaginable” amount just a few years ago, said Javier Pons, who is in charge of TV production at the firm.

Mediapro is also preparing a sitcom for HBO, which has a streaming service that competes with Netflix, as well as “projects” for other platforms that it could not discuss.

Producing series for a streaming service requires the “narration to be a bit different, so viewers get, in a way, addicted to the content,” as subscribers of the platforms tend to binge-watch shows, Mediapro content director Javier Mendez said.

Madrid’s status as a new hub for TV series production was thrown into the spotlight when Netflix in April opened its first European production center in Tres Cantos on the outskirts of the city.

The third season of Money Heist, which Netflix released worldwide on Friday, was filmed in this sprawling 22,000m2 complex.

The Emmy-winning series about a long-prepared, multiple-day assault on the Royal Mint of Spain is Netflix’s most-watched non-English language show.

Initially broadcast on private Spanish TV channel Antena 3, the US streaming giant bought the series in late 2017 and rereleased it worldwide, turning the show into a global phenomenon.

The unexpected success of the series weighed heavily on Netflix’s decision to set up shop in Madrid, said Elena Neira, a specialist in new media at the Open University of Catalonia.

The success of other Spanish series on streaming services, such as Elite about teens at an exclusive private school in Madrid, has led Spanish producers to set their sights higher, she added.

“For many people in Spain, who suddenly see Spanish content associated to a powerful brand like Netflix, it becomes much cooler than when it is broadcast on Antena 3,” Neira said.

The number of TV series made in Spain last year rose to 58, from 38 in 2015, PricewaterhouseCoopers said in a report.

The sector last year contributed 655 million euros (US$735.8 million at the current exchange rate) to Spain’s economic output, up from 429 million euros in 2015, the report said.

PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that Spain could produce 72 series per year once the sector is “consolidated,” which would generate more than 18,000 direct and indirect jobs, compared with less than 10,000 in 2015.

Media giant Viacom, which owns Paramount Pictures Corp and TV stations such as MTV, in April announced that Madrid would be one of its hubs for the creation of Spanish-language content.

“I think there is at the moment a significant tendency to consume Spanish content, and in languages other than English, which boosts the opportunities to create here for the foreign market,” Viacom director of content for Spain and Portugal Laura Abril said.

The subscription streaming service market is to grow faster in Spanish-speaking nations from last year to 2022 than in Britain or the US, PricewaterhouseCoopers said.

Spain, which has a long history of film and TV production, is taking advantage of the opportunity.

“We focus on the new platforms, but all of this crystalized before,” said Patricia Diego, a TV production professor at the University of Navarra.

She pointed out that Money Heist creator Alex Pina had been making series for Spanish TV stations for the past two decades.

Spain’s relatively low salaries make it competitive to produce shows in the country, Diego added.

The sector is also getting a boost from new EU rules due to come into effect next year that would require streaming video providers like Netflix and Inc’s Prime Video to dedicate at least 30 percent of their catalogues to European content.