Spanish streaming war escalates as Hollywood sticks out


Is the next streaming war in Spanish?

Media executives often tout the importance of reaching Spanish speaking audiences, attracting the attention of people who have heard it all before.

But if a wave of recent investment and deals is any indication, Latino and Hispanic viewers in the United States and beyond have become a key part of audience expansion plans for streaming platforms.

Netflix spent $ 200 million in 2020 to produce content in Mexico, an amount that is expected to increase this year, and has invested heavily in Spain as well. Disney, which launched Disney + in Latin America in November, announced its intention to produce 70 original programs for the region. WarnerMedia to invest heavily in Latin American markets with HBO Max.

Univision launched in March PrendeTV, an ad-supported free streaming service for the Latin American market. The next month Univision acquired the content and media assets of Grupo Televisa, valued at $ 4.8 billion, with the aim of creating a Spanish-speaking supergiant as the competition intensifies.

NBCUniversal’s Telemundo last month announced a new studio, called Telemundo Streaming Studios, dedicated to producing content for streaming platforms, including the brother service Peacock.

On a smaller scale, Hemisphere Media Group sees an opportunity for growth in its Los Angeles-based streaming service Pantaya, which focuses on Spanish speakers in the United States and has approximately 900,000 subscribers. Miami-based Hemisphere in April paid Lionsgate $ 124 million for the 75% of Pantaya it did not already own, in a bid to grow it by investing in content.

“We can do so much more, and the opportunity is so much greater,” Hemisphere CEO Alan Sokol said in an interview after the deal. “We’ve set a stated target of 2.5-3 million subscribers by 2025. But honestly, we think that’s a conservative goal and the opportunity is two to three times greater.”

It’s easy to see why streamers and studios see a gold mine. Latinos consistently made up a disproportionate amount of films before the pandemic, but they are severely under-represented on screen and behind the camera, including at Netflix, as my colleague Fidel Martinez wrote in his newsletter, the Latinx Files.

In the United States, the Latino and Hispanic population continues to grow, surpassing 60 million in 2019. Hispanics and Latinos were the top group of moviegoers per capita in 2019, going to the movies 4.7 times per year.

Moctesuma Esparza, producer of the 1997 film “Selena”, built his Pasadena-based Maya Cinemas chain of theaters with a strategy to serve under-broadcast neighborhoods, including working-class neighborhoods dominated by Latinos. In an interview with The Times in 2018, he noted the lack of attention given to Latinos in the industry’s push for diversity and inclusion.

“I am hopeful that Hollywood wakes up and that changes will come, and that [the] Hollywood-so-white [movement] will soon mean thinking about Latinos too, ”Esparza said at the time.

Better late than never? There are signs that the streaming-obsessed entertainment industry is starting to catch on.

High quality Spanish movies and shows have proven to intersect with English speaking audiences and other populations. Netflix in April said that the Mexican series “Who Killed Sara?” had become its most-watched foreign-language show, with 55 million accounts logged in in its first weeks on the service.

The crime series “Money Heist” gained a modest following when it originally aired on Spanish television, creator Álex Pina said. But once it went global through Netflix, its audience exploded, with the Dalí mask iconography of its themes and characters echoing all over Argentina. in Saudi Arabia.

Pina still sees the series’ international success as a mystery, but speculates that the idea of ​​conveying a popular genre – the perfect heist – through a specific cultural lens gave the material a new twist.

“Viewers these days often feel like the shows are repeating themselves,” he wrote in an email. “This crime scene means something to you, I’ve seen it elsewhere. And this police officer looks familiar too. It gets complicated to create whole new characters, so our Latin outlook, applied to our fiction, has also added a bit of freshness to other cultures.

The show’s fifth and final season arrives on Netflix this year. Pina’s success led to the March launch of Netflix’s “Sky Rojo,” a luscious action series he co-created about three prostitutes running away from their pimps.

The interest of major streaming companies in Spanish programming, including international markets, has been a boon to Latino and Hispanic audiences who, for years, have stuck with what entertainment industry consultant Santiago Pozo calls “the leftovers” of the film and television industry.

Consumers are no longer satisfied with dramatic telenovelas. They want the high production values ​​seen in programming for English speaking audiences.

“Streamers have given freedom to Hispanic creators,” said Pozo, who sold his Hispanic film marketing business Arenas Group last year. “Now you don’t need to create something that fits Televisa’s model anymore. “

Yet businesses face challenges when creating streaming services and content for the Latino and Hispanic markets. The Hispanic American “market”, for example, is truly a fragmented set of audiences, including Cuban Americans in Miami and Mexican Americans in Los Angeles, who encompass a multitude of cultural references and sensibilities.

Pantaya – a play on the Spanish word for “screen” – is an interesting case study. The service, which woos American audiences with Spanish as their primary language, has content deals with major Mexican studios and has had some success with originals, such as the sexually provocative drama series “El Juego de las Llaves ”, which is getting its second season this fall.

Still, the streaming service, which generated $ 46 million in revenue last year, has failed to reach a huge number of subscribers. Its target market of “uncultured / bi-cultural adults” is estimated at 39 million people, but only 40% of them are even aware of the service, according to the report. company slideshow, a statistic that represents both “a problem and an opportunity”, according to Sokol.

But is the big-budget Spanish content on Netflix and other streamers, along with all the dubbed and subtitled shows available, more appealing to the people Pantaya wants to reach?

Despite the challenges, Sokol views the company’s experience with content specifically aimed at Spanish-speaking Americans as an advantage.

“Netflix has a much bigger checkbook than we do, but we’re very focused on what we’re doing,” Sokol said. “We have a far larger pool of films and series than anyone else. I think that’s where our advantage lies.

This article was adapted from an edition of The Wide Shot, an entertainment business newsletter. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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