Latin American viewers ready for some light fare

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Latin American TV audiences are in for a major dose of what the Europeans refer to as "light entertainment," a gather-all expression that bundles up everything from humorous reality shows to dancing contests and games.

A slew of program formats seen over the past decade by TV audiences around Europe will now be remade for Latin American viewers thanks to a deal inked recently between Sony Pictures Television International and Swedish producer Strix Television. Though the marriage vows were made a couple of months ago between the two companies, Brendan Fitzgerald, SPTI's senior vp international production, says next month's NATPE confab in Las Vegas will see the beginning of some serious production commitments.

Dozens of producers from the region have been spending time in SPTI's L.A. production facilities with some of the studio's top reality and game producers in preparation for the launch of this next phase in SPTI's operations in Latin America. These local producers, working for SPTI, are key to successful regional adaptations of the formats, Fitzgerald says.

With more traditional TV and new media executives than ever before expected at NATPE, there will be some hot and heavy conversations at the big TV confab about the formats, along with the production expertise available, Fitzgerald says.

Having already made big inroads into local production in the region with versions of such scripted hit shows as "The Nanny," "Bewitched," "Who's the Boss?," "Married ... With Children" and "Mad About You," SPTI is kick-starting the next phase of its expansion in the region with the Strix deal, Fitzgerald says.

"It's an area that we have been looking at for some time to complement our approach on the scripted fiction side, and with Strix we were able to find the perfect addition to enable us to present a totally new phase of our business to the region in the form of a critical mass of scripted, reality and games," he says.

The light entertainment side in particular will be a fit for the increasing number of mobile TV offerings that are springing up in the region as part of the operations of all the major broadcasters. "We think that the requirements for mobile as well as the interactive component at home (built into most light entertainment formats) is a major bonus," Fitzgerald says.

Latin American audiences have an insatiable appetite for the telenovela. So how will light reality fare compete in the region with the high drama of the telenovela? "I think light entertainment is less of a risk than, say, a six-month telenovela commitment. And it's more of a controlled in-studio experience for the games and for lots of reality shows," Fitzgerald says. "Obviously some of the larger realities will take you outside to deserted islands. But in general we can now offer a different production model for the same broadcaster that is leaning on the telenovela project. It frees them up from any constraints that they might have regarding exclusivity of talent. Also, it's a highly sponsorable genre and very open to product placement and frees them of any constraints that they might have regarding exclusivity of talent -- and it's a highly sponsorable genre, a cash-positive genre."

Fitzgerald is careful to stress, however, that SPTI remains committed to drama and telenovela production. This expansion into games and other shows is intended to create a "one-stop shopping" programming portfolio.

Among the 70-plus formats being pitched by SPTI are "The Farm," a reality show set on a farm that became a controversial hit for the U.K.'s Five channel a couple of years back; "The Bar," featuring contestants attempting to get a pub business up and running; "Paradise Lost," in which participants are taken away from their comfortable lives to live in a dump; and "All for One," in which townspeople are brought together in key community projects.
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