Argentina takes prod'n boom to MIPCOM

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BUENOS AIRES -- Argentine production houses will be out in full force in Cannes at next week's big international confab, MIPCOM, having revved up their television exports into a booming business for the country.

Companies such as Cris Morena Group, Pol-ka Producciones and Cuatro Cabezas will hit the Cote d'Azur with a slew of shows that have been hits at home and are now increasingly in demand around the world, from Eastern Europe to Southeast Asia. Argentina exports an estimated 40,000 hours of television annually, largely telenovelas and reality-based programming.

"MIPCOM is like a private club. You have to be there if you want to be connected," said Mariano Kon of Cuatro Cabezas, one of Argentina's most successful production houses.

Cuatro Cabezas' flagship program "Caiga Quien Caiga" (CQC) -- a political satire and sabotage show -- has already been adapted in Chile, Spain, France, Italy and Israel. Forty% of Cuatro Cabezas' annual income comes from overseas, Kon said, and he hopes MIPCOM 2006 will help its newer nonfiction shows like "E24," "The Team" and "The Unwritten History" shore up deals with U.S. carriers.

"Argentina has a long tradition of producing and exporting culture, and ever since the 2001 crisis, we have become competitive in economical terms too," he said.

The 2001-02 economic crisis sent Argentina's unemployment rate skyrocketing and its currency sputtering. Formerly trading one-to-one with the U.S. dollar, the Argentine peso is now valued at about three to one against the greenback. As a result, Argentina has become a bargain for those looking to purchase original and intriguing television content, and for producers wanting to shoot on location on the elegant boulevards of Buenos Aires or the snow-capped peaks of Patagonia.

"We have good talent, good writers, good ideas, good locations and good costs, to boot," said Victor Tevah of Pol-ka Producciones, which will be touting several productions at MIPCOM, including "Mujeres Asesinas" (Women Assassins) and "Padre Coraje" (Brave Father John).

Pol-ka is hard at work on Spanish- and Portuguese-language versions of ABC's "Desperate Housewives" for Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil, and is looking to restart production of its critically acclaimed -- but seldom seen -- HBO crime drama "Epitafios."

"We are going to MIPCOM to firm up existing relationships and to look for partners on possible co-productions," Tevah said.

Cris Morena is the only woman in Argentina to head her own production company. Her eponymous group specializes in family and children's programming. She has had global success with "Rebelde Way" (The Rebels), a teen dramedy that has spawned spinoff pop groups and brought in millions of dollars in concert and merchandise sales.

In Cannes, Morena and partners RGB Entertainment and Telefe International will be shopping four programs: "Chiquititas" (Tiny Angels), "Alma Pirata" (Pirate Soul), "Amor Mio" (Loony Love) and "Floricienta" (Flinderella).

Many of Argentina's hottest creations already are seen around the world, thanks in large part to Israeli distributor Dori Media Group, which directs the distribution of its Latin American content from its Buenos Aires office.

"Previously, most of our telenovela sales went to rich countries in rich regions: Western Europe and the U.S. But in the last two years or so we have been selling more all around the world, and this is very important for us," Dori Media Group CEO and president Nadav Palti said.

In August, Palti flew from Tel Aviv to Buenos Aires for a lavish party that Dori Media Group threw at an uber-cool nightclub to announce new distribution deals that will put Argentine shows on the air in Russia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Romania, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Some of Argentina's biggest celebrities were on hand for the fiesta, including doe-eyed siren Araceli Gonzalez, who has starred in a slew of Argentine-produced telenovelas over the past decade.

"People all over the world love Argentine television," she said. "I mean, everyone in Romania knows who I am! How crazy is that?"
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