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Latin America unpredictable but still a force

Jan 7, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Ask the international distribution crowd about the makeup of the overseas contingent that comes to the National Association of Television Program Executives conference every year, and the first region it’s likely to mention is Latin America. It certainly isn’t the largest group that attends the show from outside the U.S. (Canada stakes that claim), but Latin America has a certain dynamic presence that cannot be denied.
Yet this year’s show finds much of the region under duress. The general economy woes in such countries as Argentina and Venezuela have been made palpable in recent months by general strikes and (in the case of Argentina) riots and grave political uncertainty.
“I think it’s an unpredictable market because of the ups and downs of the economy,” said Charles Falzon, who is president of London-based Gullane Entertainment. But buyers and sellers remain sanguine about the economic outlook. “We are tightening our belt,” said Alberto Ciurana, VP of programming at Mexican media company Grupo Televisa. “We are being more careful in our shopping. But we have a history of being very responsible in our acquisitions. We have a long-term relation-ship with all of [the distributors], and sometimes when things get tough they help us get through.”
Similarly optimistic sentiments come from some of the sales organ- izations in the region when they talk about their outlook for NATPE. “The channels have the same number of hours they need to fill, so we expect to be selling the same or more in the market,” said Mr. Luis Villanueva, president of Venezuela’s Venevision International.
Mr. Villanueva’s company, which is an offshoot of one of Venezula’s most prominent broadcast networks, Venevision, sells some 19,000 hours of programming a year. Among its top offerings at NATPE will be the investigative talk show “El Show de Marta Susana” and the telenovela “Secreto de Amor” (“Secret of Love”).
Roberto Buzzoni, who is VP of programming and acquisitions at Brazil’s dominant broadcaster, Rede Globo, said he thinks it’s too early to tell whether prices will come down. But he’s coming to NATPE with a wide agenda for buying. “Our main concern is film-theatricals and made-for-TV [movies]. Nevertheless, our focus also remains on animation, series and miniseries.”
While Globo looks to the major American studios for programming, it also does business with other distributors such as Canada’s Nelvana Enterprises and the United Kingdom’s Grenada Television and the BBC.
Televisa’s Mr. Ciurana has a special need for American programming, since the company is transforming its Galavision channel in January from largely a movie channel to one that televises a string of American- or Canadian-made series in prime time. Already he has lined up such series as “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “The Practice,” “Dawson’s Creek” and “Dark Angel.”
None of Galavision’s shows turned up in IBOPE Media Information’s top 10 ratings rankings of Mexican programs during November. Those honors mostly went to two other Televisa services, its flagship Channel 2 and young-skewing Channel 5. But many of the shows that did rank No. 10 or better fell into the categories of movies, sports or telenovelas. And it’s in the novelas genre where Latino programmers have exhibited some new trends in recent years.
For example, Televisa is now producing not only adult telenovelas but also others specifically targeting teens or children. Among its offerings at NATPE will be the teen telenovela “El Juego de la Vida” (“The Game of Life”) and the kids telenovela “Maria Belen.”
Televisa sells its shows to Latino programmers as well as some 150 countries around the world, according to Televisa’s director of marketing, Isabella Marquez.
“Novelas in the last year have gone through a change. Instead of classic love stories, they tend to be more different, with more humor and more reality,” said Jorge Vaillant, director of international marketing for the Argentine programmer Artear. Among the novelas he’s showcasing at NATPE are “El Sodero de Mi Vida” (whose English title is “Sparkling Love”) and “El Loco” (which translates as “The Crazy” but is being marketed with the English title “Fire and Roses”).
“There’s a lot more sophistication in Latin America than there was five or six years ago,” said Gullane’s Mr. Falzon. He said the region is growing in sales, thanks in part to the needs of pan-regional satellite-delivered channels.
There’s no doubt that despite the economic woes, Latin America is an extremely vibrant region for program sales. “We just have to be patient with some of the countries that might be in a worse situation than they were before,” said Venevision’s Mr. Villanueva.