scene from Netflix series Brotherhood. Photo: O2 Filmes/ Courtesy
Scene from the Brazilian series Brotherhood, produced by O2 Filmes for Netflix. Photo: O2 Filmes/ Courtesy

How streaming platforms are taking Latin American productions to new global audiences

Productions from Brazil and Mexico are now attracting audiences around the world without relying on movie theaters. But to what extent is the streaming era shaping how these works are produced and consumed?

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It is true that Latin American productions have already established themselves in the world film industry. With a track record that brings together a long list of Oscar nominations, in addition to other awards, titles such as the Brazilians City of God and Central Station, the Argentine The Secret in Their Eyes, the Mexican Pan’s Labyrinth and more recently, Roma, from the also Mexican Alfonso Cuarón, helped make Latin America a reference when it comes to cinema.

But, if before, for these productions to reach a foreign audience, there was a great dependence on the cinema distribution – via large productions or through titles aimed at an independent movie audience – now, they gain another pace. And other screens. “Our foray into Latin America in 2011 reflects our belief that the entire region, from Brazil to Mexico, wants to see their own narratives reflected on the screen,” says Francisco Ramos, vice-president of International Originals for Latin America at Netflix, in an interview to LABS.

“We quickly started to produce in the region – first in Mexico, then in Brazil – our first two series made outside the United States,” he recalls. In April, during the biggest creativity and innovation event in Latin America, Rio2C, Netflix announced its plans to release by the end of 2020 thirty original Brazilian productions, among films and series. 

“Streaming brought many opportunities for Brazilian productions. With the arrival of platforms like Netflix, Amazon [Prime Video], Globoplay, and others that are yet to come, the demand and the need for the Brazilian product has increased a lot,” says Andrea Barata Ribeiro, partner and executive producer at O2 Filmes. The films City of God and Blindness, directed by the renowned Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles, and the original Netflix series Brotherhood are some of the works that O2 Filmes carries in its long-standing portfolio. 

“We received a kind of briefing on what type of content Netflix was looking for. Among them, they wanted a police story. I asked director Pedro Morelli to develop something and he came up with the idea of ​​telling a story inspired by the beginning of the PCC [Primeiro Comando da Capital, a Brazilian criminal organization], but we didn’t want something documental, just inspirational. The whole process [with Netflix] was very good. An intense, respectful, and creative exchange,” tells Andrea Barata Ribeiro, partner and executive producer at O2 Filmes. Scene from Brotherhood, produced by O2 Filmes for Netflix. Photo: O2 Filmes/ Courtesy.

The large audience of these productions are still their home countries, but there is already a movement of foreign audiences turning their eyes to Latin or Hispanic productions. “I do believe that the content is more likely to travel. Take the tremendous success of Money Heist. Good content, a good story, and the possibility of having it at hand increase the chance of your product being seen abroad. We are still learning to explore these possibilities and I believe that the world will become more flexible to content from all over the world,” explains Ribeiro. 

“It is already more than proven that in order for the platform to grow in a country, there is a need to produce locally,” says Andrea Barata Ribeiro, partner and executive producer at O2 Filmes. Photo: O2 Filmes/ Courtesy.

The South Korean film Parasite, by filmmaker Bong Joon-ho, shows the power of this movement. By winning four statuettes at the Oscars 2020, the production made history by becoming the first non-English title to win the Best Picture award. He pointed out that “once you overcome the one inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” in reference to the North Americans’ lack of habit of watching movies in other languages. 

There is an appetite for Latin American stories, obviously throughout Latin America, Spain and Portugal and, in a way, in other regions of the world.

Francisco Ramos, vice-president of International Originals for Latin America, Netflix

A variety of stories

The genres of Latin productions that arrive through subscription platforms are also diverse. Not that this was an advent of these services: titles of the most varied genres were already produced even before the streaming era. But what seems to have changed is the speed at which these productions are crossing oceans.

In 2018, the American-Colombian coproduction Narcos was the fifth most in-demand SVoD original series in the world, according to data from Parrot Analytics, data science company that measures the global demand for content on platforms. 3%, a Brazilian science fiction series, also from Netflix, had half the audience of the first season coming from outside Brazil, according to information from the Brazilian division of the company.

For the partner and executive producer of O2 Filmes, the genres sought by the platforms when producing their originals in Brazil change from time to time. “At the moment it is almost unanimous to hear that the desire is a product to engage the young audience. There was a time when they were looking for leading female characters. I think that changes all the time,” says Ribeiro. 

READ ALSO: Streaming services will surpass pay-TV in Latin America in 2020

With an eye on this localization strategy, other platforms have also been betting on Latin American productions. Amazon Prime Video, which has been operating in Brazil since 2016, launched in 2020 its first original productions in the country, including the reality show Soltos em Floripa and the docuseries Tudo ou Nada – Brazilian Selection. In Latin America, the platform also has original Mexican productions since 2018, in addition to productions under development for Argentina, Chile, and Colombia, with releases scheduled for 2020 and 2021.

Globoplay is another streaming service that, in Brazil, was already a leader in the number of subscribers, with 22 million unique visitors per month, but until then, it did not operate in international markets. The service, run by the largest media company in Latin America, Grupo Globo, arrived in North American lands in January costing $13.99 and offering a catalog of original series that include the thriller set in the Amazon Aruanas, and the drama Harassment, a production also led by O2 Filmes.

The Argentinian Intuition is Netflix’s first original movie in the country. Photo: Netflix/ Courtesy.

“Authentic and local stories that have an impact on their countries of origin are the DNA of our programming. Partnerships with the best producers, writers, directors, casts, etc., in each of the countries where we operate, are our best way to find verisimilitude,” explains Ramos. The executive reveals that among the new releases on Netflix, are the premiere of the second season of Most Beautiful Thing, set in Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s, Reality Z, the first Brazilian series of zombies, in addition to the last season of 3% and the police thriller Bom Dia, Verônica.

The Brazilian audiovisual is being maintained due to the entry of these platforms. If it weren’t for that, we would practically be going back to the era where there was only advertising. 

Andrea Barata Ribeiro, partner and executive producer, O2 Filmes

“We are also working on the second season of Sintonia. More films, comedy specials, and nonfiction series will arrive for our subscribers in Brazil. In Mexico, we just launched the youth series called Control Z and our program also includes the second seasons of Monarca and Luis Miguel, in addition to the long-awaited new series about the singer Selena Quintanilla.” In Argentina, where Netflix announced the opening of an office this year, the most recent release is the first original film in the country, La Corazonada (Intuition), which premiered on May 28. “In Colombia, we recently released the second season of Sempre Bruxa [Always a Witch] and the first season of Chichipatos, which we have just renewed,” says Ramos.

READ ALSO: Brazil is Netflix’s 3rd largest market in terms of revenue, and the 2nd in number of subscribers

Changes in the audiovisual sector 

But if, on the one hand, the number of Latin American productions increased dramatically when streaming platforms started producing their originals, on the other, this did not necessarily democratize the access by more producers, tells Antonio Gonçalves Junior, partner at Grafo Audiovisual

“There was a huge concentration in the same producers for streaming platforms and prime channels on pay-TV, always on the Rio de Janeiro-São Paulo axis.” From the southern city of Curitiba, the film production company has in its portfolio award-winning works such as Ferrugem (Rust), winner of the awards for best film at the Gramado Festival, and best Ibero-American film at the Seattle International Film Festival. The picture was also nominated for the Sundance Festival and was included in the list of Brazilian films selected in the final stage of the Brazilian Oscar selection.

For Gonçalves, the power of streaming platforms has to do with the possibility of immediate consumption and also with resources, since these services and prime channels on pay-TV have started to invest in Brazilian productions with their own funds. As for the future of the sector in the post-pandemic scenario, the producer is betting on a more marked segmentation, with large productions dominating the theaters even more, while niche platforms, such as Mubi and the Brazilian Looke, celebrate independent production. 

“Before COVID-19, O2 had ten series in production”, says O2 Filmes’ partner, who foresees the resumption of these works as soon as possible. Ribeiro believes that the trend for the sector in Brazil is for local productions to gain strength. “It is already more than proven that in order for the platform to grow in a country, there is a need to produce locally. Therefore, the tendency is that as the platform grows, the number of local content increases.”