Fully on-site last week for the first time since 2019, Spain’s Conecta Fiction & Entertainment, its first major TV event, returned to much of the winning formula of its early pre-pandemic editions: A spectacular setting in Spain, here the august historical city of Toledo; TV project pitches; an intense conference strand; marvelous networking opportunities, most especially the possibility of spending quality time with mover and shaker industry figures from Spain and Latin America.
“I love to be here and it’s healthy, mainly for networking. I’m learning a lot, it’s like going to school,” Fremantle’s Manuel Marti enthused at Toledo. Most attendees would agree with him.
But, compared to 2019, the industry has moved on and is now buffeted by larger turbulence. Following, 12 takeaways on a robust, intense 6th Conecta Fiction, running June 21-24:
Connect Fiction: Bigger Than Ever…
This year’s edition was the biggest ever, with 728 delegates, Conecta Fiction director Geraldine Gonard announced Friday. That edges Pamplona’s 692 in 2019. Little wonder. Global content spend has almost doubled in a decade, up 94% from $123 billion in 2012 to an estimated $235 billion in 2022, according to a study presented by Ampere Analysis’ Hannah Walsh at CF&E on Thursday. Driving part – but only part – of that growth is streaming content spend. Spurred on by competition, it has increased fourfold from $10 billion in 2017 to $40 billion in 2022, Walsh said.
… And Broadening Its Gamut
It’s also broadened its gamut, launching Format, Docu-Drama and High-End pitching sessions, and welcoming projects from all over Europe and just beyond, such as Lebanon’s Co-Pro Series winner “Status Quo,” CF&E’s first Arab world title. “Co-Pro titles used to be Spanish, Argentine, maybe Chilean. This year they came from the Ukraine, Italy, Uruguay, Spain, Portugal, Iceland, Lebanon and Finland,” said Marti. “The scope is now much broader, a global TV panorama. That’s positive.”
Disney Dazzles: “Santa Evita”
The most glamorous event at Conecta Fiction was a June 22 gala preview with stars in tow of the pilot episode to “Santa Evita,” a banner title from Star Plus, the Walt Disney Company’s year-old streaming service in Latin America. Executive produced, among others, by Salma Hayek Pinault and co-directed by Rodrigo García (“Nine Lives”), Star Plus Productions series is shot with cinematographic flare and shot through with a modern-day gender sensibility. It shows Eva Perón as she’s rarely seen before: Dead, her embalmed corpse de ella sequestered by Argentina’s military regime, and men still loving, vilifying and fearing her figure de ella in equal measure.
VIS, Banijay, Beta Up the Ante In Spain
The big news at CF&E turned on energetic US players and European super indies ramping up their presence in Spain.
VIS, Paramount’s international studio, moved waves announcing an exclusive first-look deal with Madrid and Los Angeles-based Morena Films (“Champions,” “Below Zero”). Beta Fiction Spain announced its first Spanish production, “Dolores,” a portrait of workers champion La Pasionaria. “There’s always been a strong connection on the feature side between Spain, Mexico and Hollywood. We’d just love to establish this on the TV side as well,” announced Lars Blomgren at Banijay, which has just acquired Alex de la Iglesia’s Pokeepsie Films.
Spain: A Global Platform Leader
Again, that ramp up hardly comes as a surprise. By a large head, Spain packs more movies (3) and series (5) in Netflix’s non-English most-watched global Top 10s than any other country in the world, Korea (2) included. Even over June 13-19, led by “Intimacy,” the most-watched non-English TV show in the world on Netflix, hours watched on Top 10 ranking Spanish shows and movies was getting on for triple that of any other country. Over 2018-21, Castilian Spanish-language titles have become the most coveted non-English language content for US SVOD operators, beating out Japanese and a long way ahead of Hindi, French and Chinese, according to Omdia’s Maria Rua Aguete. Even without “Money Heist,” Spain still rocks.
Next Gen Women Writers Energize Conecta Fiction
Widely praised for its sharp writing, “Intimacy,” a political/gender abuse melodrama-thriller, was penned by Verónica Fernández (“Velvet Collection”) and Laura Sarmiento Pallarés (“Crematorium”). Now new-gen women writers are making their impact, behind more avant-garde projects at Conecta Fiction. Written by Leticia Dolera (“Perfect Life”) and Almudena Monzú (“Picadero”), “Puberty” weighed in as one of the most questioning of pitched high-end dramas, plumbing sexual taboos. Spain’s Leire Albinarrate won two awards for “A Wicked Life,” set in 1901 Madrid, which “pushes the boundaries of period dramas,” she told Variety, incorporating “the untold perspectives of outcast, queer and disabled characters.”
There was good buzz on Italy’s “From 6 to 8 pm,” an erotic dramedy from “Gomorrah” and “My Brilliant Friend” producer Fandango, written by the latter’s scribe, Francesco Piccoli. Penned by Eduardo Sacheri, a co-write on “The Secret in Their Eyes,” Fabula-Fremantle religious thriller was the biggest market play at CF&E. Shown to select companies, the pilot of “Our Women’s Lives” – a gender violence anthology series from BTF Media Chile, headed by “The Suspended Mourning” creator Hernan Caffiero, was also sparking good word. It is co-written and directed by Bárbara Barrera Morales, another emerging new-gen talent.
Toledo: Film-TV Hub
Toledo is a tourist magnet, just a 40-minute train ride south of Madrid, a city with a massive Gothic cathedral and Alcazar fortress, higgledly-piggledly backstreets and a sense of still encapsulating the grandeur of an older Spain. The city now aims, however, to also become a modern-day film-TV hub, its government and film commission taking meetings with 30 major international film-TV companies at Conecta Fiction, said Ana Isabel Fernández, Castilla-La Mancha director general of Tourism, Trade and Crafts. Spain has a lot going for it these days as a big shoot locale, Gonard said, citing competitive incentives, flexible work regulation and much sought after key tech talent.
Yet CF&T also took place at a time of increasing industry headwinds, which inevitably impacted conference discussions. One is growing uncertainty about what shows platforms, and indeed European free-to-air networks, really want. “Part of our success, when we’ve had it, has come from listening to the other side [of commissioners],” said Ramón Campos, at Bambú, who has produced with most platforms. “Now, you can’t make audience analysis. We’re working blind. I haven’t got a clue what Netflix, Amazon or Apple are looking for,” added the creator of “Velvet” and “Cable Girls,” pointing out that many of the Top 10 hits on Netflix are nowadays free-to-air series .
Spain Splits Over Its Film-TV Future
On June 23, after multiple street demonstrations by protesting producers, Spain’s Senate approved a bill requiring streamers in Spain to invest 3.5% of annual revenues in production by independent Spanish producers. Now the real arguments can begin. Big Spanish producers want a film-TV regulatory revolution tabled by Spain’s government: Rights reversion on productions made with streamers after five years; an increase from 25% to 45% of Spain’s current tax shelter for independent producers. Other producers, however, want to ensure the 3.5% is not met by platforms’ already regular producer partners. Spain’s government will attempt to find some sort of compromise to tough call.
Two Mantras: Attracting Talent, Retaining IP
The two major challenges for the non-scripted content business are attracting and retaining talent and retaining IP, Banijay’s James Townley said at a CF&E panel. Those two concerns proved Connect mantras. Only fast-track training can go any way to solving the battle for talent. Producers at Toledo were holding out larger hopes for IP, however. “Things are often solved by the market itself. The post-pandemic economic landscape has caused a small bump on streaming subscriber growth, so if the streamers have to fulfill a certain amount of hours per year and have to do it with less money, the obvious outcome will be co-production,” said Marti.
As Netflix unveiled ‘Spencer’ director Pablo Larrain’s next, “El Conde,” a Pinochet vampire movie, Fabula and Fremantle brought to CF&E hot package “Santa Maria” and dropped on Starzplay and Pantaya Pablo Fendrik’s “The Shelter,” Latin America’s first big sci-fi show. All in the same week. Most major producers in Latin America depend in part on providing services, Fremantle’s Manuel Martí observed at CF&E. With Chile, Mexico and US offices, Fremantle and Pantaya production alliances and producing titles of the caliber of “Spencer,” Fabula has grown into Latin America’s foremost film-TV talent hub through pure-play production – a formidable achievement.