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Telefonica’s Movistar Plus Closes with Sky Vision, Beta, About Premium Content on First Original Series (EXCLUSIVE)

Variety logo Variety 4/2/2017 John Hopewell
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CANNES — Adding another significant international market player to Europe’s still emerging premium TV landscape, Telefonica’s Movistar Plus has closed sales agent partnerships on four of its first and most-anticipated original series productions with three of Europe’s foremost TV sales companies: U.K.-based Sky Vision, Germany’s Beta Film and About Premium Content in France.

The decision comes as Movistar Plus, the pay-TV unit of one of Europe’s biggest telecoms with revenues of €52.0 billion ($56.6 billion) in 2016, readies Spain’s most ambitious TV slate in history, featuring seven premium original series made at budgets far higher than the norm and in partnership with some the country’s best film and TV creators and producers.

In a first round of deals, Sky Vision, the powerful sales arm of pan-European pay TV giant Sky, will handle international sales on Alberto Rodriguez’s “La Peste” (The Plague). The deal is not at the moment at least for distribution in Sky’s home territories of the U.K., Germany and Italy. The fact that Sky Vision handles the title, however, will do no harm to the possibility of an eventually distribution deal.

Of other deals, Jan Mojto’s Beta Film will sell both Jorge Sanchez Cabezudo’s “La Zona” (The Zone) and “Velvet Collection,” created by Teresa Sanchez-Valdes at Bambu Producciones.

Paris-based About Premium Content has acquired international sales rights to “Gigantes” (Giants) from Enrique Urbizu.

Meanwhile, Movistar Plus has acquired for broadcast in Spain from Beta Film both Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “The Same Sky” and its flagship title “Babylon Berlin,” co-directed by Tom Tykwer.

Movistar Plus’ series run a large gamut. Most probably the biggest, and a six-part historical thriller set in a rambunctious, affluent sixteenth century Seville in the grips of bubonic plague, “The Plague” is directed by Alberto Rodriguez, who swept the 2016 Spanish Academy Goya Awards with “Marshland.” Now shooting, the procedural is produced by Movistar Plus and Jose Antonio Felez’s Atipica Films, Rodriguez’s longterm producer. Rodriguez and his regular co-scribe Rafael Cobos co-wrote the scripts.

Brothers Jorge and Alberto Sanchez-Cabezudo have already proven their skills at creating premium TV fiction, writing and directing 2011’s “Crematorio,” a property development thriller which delivered a searing indictment of Mediterranean coast influence peddling and graft. A procedural eco-thriller unspooling on the margins of a nuclear accident no-go area, “The Zone” stars Eduard Fernandez (“Smoke & Mirrors”) as a cop dispatched to a community which is rebuilding three years after a nuclear disaster.

Doubling or more the average budget of Spanish TV series, Movistar Plus series will have “huge production values,” said Beta Film sales executive Christian Gockel, adding that ‘The Zone’ would be shot over 60% in exteriors.

He added: “Spain and Spanish talent is good at mixing genre, making thrillers which are not just thrillers but are about issues, such as ecology in the case of ‘The Zone.’ Doing so, they can attract broad audiences.”

Also on Beta Films’ books, “Velvet Collection,” a 10-part melodrama, continues “Velvet,” a four-season smash hit for producers Atresmedia Group and the Studiocanal part-owned Bambu Producciones, which is currently finalizing Netflix’s first original series in Spain, “Las chicas del cable.” The action transfers, however, from Madrid to Barcelona with its heroine now a leading light of the international textile business.

“Movistar Plus series are not for minority viewing. We have the vocation to reach large audiences,” Domingo Corral, Movistar Plus’ original production director said at a presentation of “The Zone” is late March, where a full cast, including Emma Suarez, star of Pedro Almodóvar’s “Julieta,” was revealed. With Telefonica’s TV clients pushing near to four million that reach is a necessity. In Bambu Producciones’ Ramon Campos and Sanchez.Vales, Movistar Plus is working with classic crossover creators who, by pushing the envelope on the ambitions of free-to-air fiction in Spain, have often created series which combine free-to-air and cable TV tropes.

“Gran Hotel” sold in over 100 territories, not just to linear broadcasters but also digital platforms, Gockel pointed out.

“Giants” looks set to be presented to the Spanish press shortly. Of the little that is known about it, it is said to be a drama in line with Urbizu’s 2012 Goya winner,  “No Rest For the Wicked,” and set in Spain’s crime underworld.

“We loved the sense of Spain and its very Spanish criminal underworld. The series’ scripts read like a Greek or Shakespearian tragedy,” said Emmanuelle Guilbart, About Premium Content’s joint CEO-founder.

She added: “Movistar Plus has taken the time to really develop their shows. What they’re trying to achieve is very exciting. They have great scripts, great talents and large ambition. Their entry into drama production should and will work.”

Bringing to the table a €70 million ($75 million) annual investment in original TV fiction, Movistar Plus is launching October-December its first four original series: “The Zone,” “The Plague,” “Velvet Colección” and Enrique López-Lavigne’s comedy “Vergüenza.” Some 10 new releases will air in 2018.

Movistar Plus will maintain a first option on rights to Latin America where it operates pay TV services. Reasons for its strategic decision to largely entrust its first series to third-party companies cut several ways.

“Our aim is to make premium TV content of the highest quality possible. So in a first-phase at least, Movistar Plus will focus on production and content,” said Ismael Calleja Baldominos, Movistar Plus head of business affairs, series & movies original programming.

“Also, we are interested in receiving feed-back from some of the most experienced sales agents on the attractiveness of our series in international markets,” he added.

In choosing the sales agents for its series, Movistar Plus has chosen companies which “have fallen in love with the series, identify with it, understand what makes them different,” Calleja Baldominos added.

Driving into premium TV dramas, Movistar Plus has adopted a screenwriter/director-driven approach: With David Trueba adding episodes for Movistar Plus to his 2010 series “Whatever Happened To Jorge Sanz?” and Cesc Gay shooting “Felix,” an eight-part thriller set in Andorra, for Movistar Plus, it is currently working with four of the six most recent Goya Best Picture winners.

“Every series is different with different audience target, and we tried to choose the sales company that is better suited to each series,” Calleja Baldominos observed.

Movistar Plus will in principle release its series one episode per week on its premium channel Movistar Series, Corral said at “The Zone” presentation.

Emiliano de Pablos contributed to this article

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