EXCLUSIVE: Spain’s flagship film event, the San Sebastian Film Festival, gets underway tonight. Ahead of the fest, Deadline sat down with Netflix’s two top content executives in Spain to hear about the streamer’s strategy in the key European market, which has the unique advantage of also being a content bridge into the company’s Latin American activities.
Netflix bet big on Spain early. In 2018, it opened its own film and TV studio in Tres Cantos, just outside of Madrid, marking its first European production hub. The facility has housed Spanish hits including Money Heist to date. As you’d expect, the streamer isn’t resting on its laurels, and is now more than doubling the number of sound stages at the site as it continues to ramp up activity.
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DEADLINE: Tell me about your remits at Netflix.
DIEGO AVALOS: I’m VP of Content for Spain and Portugal, my focus is mainly on series, from fiction to documentaries, realities and stand-up comedy. I’ve been here since the Netflix launch in Spain, this industry is a bridge between Europe and Latin America – there’s a strong cultural connection and it’s a unique position from a storytelling and potential audience perspective.
TERESA MONEO: I oversee the film strategy for Spain and I’m focusing on bigger scale feature film productions coming out of Spain and Italy, as well some pan-European projects as part of our European strategy (one of our fastest growing regions). At Netflix, our goal is to find authentic and universal stories and to give voices to the best creators. In doing so, we help bridge the creative crossroads for local filmmakers whose stories can be enjoyed all over the world.
AVALOS: Our main goal is to satisfy the hunger our local audience has, but people also have the ability to discover these stories no matter where they are in the world, in any language. Money Heist has been dubbed into more than 30 languages. The latest series launched in three different languages just in India. A Spanish story being discovered and being relevant to millions of people around the world is truly satisfying.
DEADLINE: Netflix went into the Spain market aggressively quite early, building this big studio, what was the thinking there?Money Heist Netflix
AVALOS: The first thing is this country has a really strong appetite for local content. Television has had an incredible quality here in Spain for many years. That made it a lot easier to step into this market and become part of that ecosystem. But you can’t deny the ability for Spanish content to find global audiences, to be more ambitious with projects, to have bigger scope, than you could on a show that is hyper-local. That allowed us to bet bigger on Spain than we might have otherwise.
DEADLINE: Money Heist is the flagship Netflix Spain production. Has that show been a game-changer for Netflix’s international content?
AVALOS: It definitely was a game-changer. It truly connected globally, it wasn’t just a local show. That opened the possibility for the discovery of other global shows like Lupin. It also changed the trajectory of the Spanish audiovisual industry – it confirmed the talent that was already here, on a local stage. We may have a smaller market locally, but this industry is as strong as Hollywood. The talent behind and in front of the camera is at the world class level of any other industry.
DEADLINE: The final Money Heist season is out this year, could there be any more down the line? A spin-off perhaps?
AVALOS: Right now it’s too early to tell. Alex Pina’s ideation for the show was a two-season arc. When I sat with him to tell him that audiences were loving it, and we should tell it again, his first reaction was, ‘no, this story has been told, the characters have had their beginning and their end’. It wasn’t until he’d had a few weeks to think about it that he came up with the reason for it, not how to tell the story, but why to tell the story. That’s the first question you always have to ask when it comes to spin-offs. You want Alex to see that, we believe right now the story has been told.
DEADLINE: Clearly the show was big internationally, was it a similar success in Spain?
AVALOS: It depends on what stage you’re talking about. Originally this was a co-production with a local channel [Antena 3], and it was an average-to-negative result based on the ratings. But eventually it discovered millions of audiences globally. Spain re-discovered, or discovered, the show for the first time on Netflix. It’s now as big in Spain as it is in all the other countries around the world, it’s one of our biggest titles here.
DEADLINE: Teresa, what has been a hit on the film side?
MONEO: This year, more than 46 million households watched Below Zero (Bajocero) during the first 28 days on Netflix, that is an incredible milestone. Right now, I’m working with Juana Macías, director of Fuimos Canciones, on an adaptation of the novels by Elísabet Benavent (writer and creator of Valeria) and I’m really excited about how how that is going to be received all over the world.
DEADLINE: Is your focus entirely on Spanish-language content?
AVALOS: Our focus is on local content for local audiences, but that doesn’t mean it has to be in one language. For example, we have Santo, which takes place in Brazil and Spain, and is told in Portuguese and Spanish.
MONEO: Great stories are universal and given that viewing of non-English titles by Netflix members globally doubled in 2020 compared to 2019, we’re seeing that our members enjoy content in all languages.
DEADLINE: Tell me about your studio, you doubled the number of sound stages there this year.Below Zero Netflix
AVALOS: Right now, we have about 20,000 sq meters, and we’re going to increase that. We have five sound stages, the largest one is 1,500 sq meters, and we’re in the building phase of five more, some of which are larger in size. We’re also building a state-of-the-art post-production facility which is under construction now. We want to have state of the art facilities to provide to our producers. We’ve worked with more than 35 production companies in Spain to date. It’s a Netflix exclusive facility.
DEADLINE: What kinds of films are looking for Teresa?
MONEO: We look for local stories that can move and entertain, and can resonate with a global audience. In doing so, we like to have something for everyone, from a high-concept comedy to an action-family film, a thriller… we’re investing in a variety of genres.
DEADLINE: Let’s talk about talent. We’ve seen Netflix tie-up talent with exclusive deals all over the world, is that also part of the Spain strategy?
AVALOS: Our main focus is being the best place for creators to tell their stories. We do also have some deals and it is part of our strategy – we have an exclusive relationship with Alex Pina, thanks to that we’ve been able to tell Money Heist and Sky Rojo.
MONEO: We’re looking for talent that we believe in and if the opportunity arises we are open to it.
DEADLINE: To what extent do you collaborate with other Netflix offices?
AVALOS: We have great relationships between all our teams, and we give shared visibility on all our productions. The nature of co-productions goes back to the need to close financing. Where we do interact is when the shows require it organically. That sharing of knowledge is one of the greatest assets we have from having teams all over the world.
DEADLINE: The Audiovisual Communications Service Law is currently being debated all across Europe. An agreement seems fairly close in Spain, and it looks set to mandate that somewhere between 3.5% and 5% of streaming revenues will need to be reinvested into local content, does Netflix already meet that criteria?
AVALOS: For us, the most important thing is complying with the law. One way to look at investment is not just on percentage of revenue but also on the overall impact. In the last year, we’ve had 40,000 days of extras on our shows, more than 1,500 people have worked on our productions. That’s how we look at investment. We want the most flexibility to continue growing our investment, that’s our focus.
DEADLINE: If it came into effect tomorrow, would you tick that box?
AVALOS: I think it’s a little early to tell, we don’t know where the law will end. There are various aspects and we need to wait and see how it goes through congress.
DEADLINE: Are you optimistic it will work out for all parties involved?
AVALOS: Yes, on the latest draft I think the government has done an incredible job hearing from all parties, and really pushing to make this a strong industry and an attractive one for investors from abroad. The government has spoken about making the audiovisual industry a top priority for the country.
DEADLINE: The government has talked about investing €1.6 billion ($1.9 billion) to “power up” production in Spain, does that benefit Netflix?
AVALOS: I think it benefits the industry overall, the more investment, the more improvements to professional infrastructure, that creates more jobs and more opportunities.
DEADLINE: What else is coming up on the film side?
MONEO: We’re finalizing the cast of the Bird Box spin-off, a film that will be shot in Barcelona with the talented Pastor brothers, and we have also just announced A Man Of Action, a project directed by Javier Ruiz Caldera, starring the always charming Juan José Ballesta.
DEADLINE: And TV?
AVALOS: Next week we are launching action thriller Jaguar. One of my focuses is our new reality shows: Insiders, which sees 12 people take part in what they think is casting for a new reality show, but is in fact the actual show; Love Never Lies, in which six couples live three weeks in an idyllic setting and have to prove they have an honest relationship; and Soy Georgina, she’s a model, mother, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s partner.
DEADLINE: Ronaldo and Georgina have of course relocated to Manchester now…
AVALOS: That didn’t make it into this season but hopefully if we renew this we’ll follow those paths in her life there.