Ask Jose Velasco, 60, what he thinks about the Conecta Fiction Honorary award he’s receiving on Thursday June 23 and his first response is, “Why?”
The self-effacing founder and president of powerhouse content producer iZen Group says he is grateful to those who decided to give it to him, “rightly or not.” “I guess it’s because I’ve been in this business for 35 years and have done everything from fiction to reality to game shows,” he muses, adding: “But if they think this will make me retire, they’re mistaken.”
“I guess I am of the generation of people in Spain who were trying to shape the country’s television landscape,” he notes. Indeed, Velasco founded and ran one of the pioneering entertainment giants of Spain, Globomedia. He later established Zeppelin TV as well as Diagonal TV and Linze Producciones, all of which formed part of Endemol, then owned by Telefonica Media.
He has produced some of Spain’s most successful series, both scripted and non-scripted, including the Spanish version of “Big Brother,” and most recently, the first reality show in streaming for Netflix, “Insiders,” hosted by “Money Heist” star, Najwa Nimri.
In 2001 he founded Zebra Producciones, of which he is president, producing some 18 award-winning features and more than 1,000 hours of lauded TV content per year.
iZen Group is run by him and his 38-year-old daughter Sara Fernández-Velasco, the group’s CEO, in tandem with majority partner Newen (an affiliate of TF1). “iZen has found in Newen the ideal partner to grow and seek new opportunities, with a way of seeing the business with which we fully identify,” says Velasco.
The group includes Spanish companies Zebra, Europroducciones, Boca a Boca, Hill Valley, Proima Zebrastur, NewCo, with Joan and Alex Bas and Indalo y Media. Collectively, they produce more than 1,400 hours of content a year in Spain. Most recently, Tomás Ocaña, winner of an Emmy, a Peabody and an Premio Ondas, joined the group with his company Capa España, the Spanish branch of French factual content company, Capa Agency.
In association with iMagic, one of the largest producers in the Middle East, iZen has formed three UK production companies: Chalkboard, which provides entertainment content to Channel 4 and the BBC, Clapperboard, producer of five hit series for Channel 5 and Paramount, and Storyboard Studios.
“We launched Scottish factual content company Storyboard Studios in association with Nathalie Humphreys, the former head of factual and documentaries at the BBC,” says Velasco, who praises iZen Group’s UK partner Mike Benson, as “one of the most capable and versatile producers in England, who has managed to launch three of the most promising independent production companies in the British audiovisual marketplace.”
In all, iZen Group produces more than 2,000 hours a year of fiction and factual entertainment for broadcasters and streamers worldwide. Velasco has also been producing stage musicals and plays, with plans to take the Spanish-language stage versions of Ernst Lubitsch’s “To Be or Not to Be” and “Death of a Salesman,” starring Imanol Arias, to the US
Velasco also created and executive produced the epic series about legendary Spanish hero, “El Cid,” touted as one of the most ambitious Spanish-language series on Prime Video.
Speaking of heroes, “One has got to be a hero to be an independent producer these days,” he asserts. In an op-ed column he wrote for TBI two years ago, the observations he made then, sadly remain true today.
“Although the rumors of the death of the independent producer are, as Mark Twain put it, greatly exaggerated, we are like El Cid in that we are standing alone against change. We are dazzled by the golden treasure chests and tinsel-decked palaces of our new streamer masters – the modern-day Arab kingdoms,” he wrote.
“I bless the streamers for distributing our content across the world,” he says. Conversely, “we have proven that we can produce content that can become global hits.”