Mediapro boss a study in contrasts

Low-key style belies Roures' ambitious plans in Spain

Jaume Roures does not fit the stereotype of the Citizen Kane-style media baron.

The president of Spanish production company Mediapro prefers cardigans and casual shirts to suits and believes Marxism-Leninism is still the best political analysis around despite heading a multimillion-dollar company.

But appearances can be deceptive; Roures is undoubtedly one of the most important players in Spanish media, whose empire stretches from film production to running a TV station and a national newspaper.

This is a man who is not afraid to take on the biggest players in the Spanish film and television world.

Not content with simply being confined to production and postproduction, Mediapro started signing deals with the likes of Pedro Almodovar's El Deseo company.

Most recently, Roures produced Woody Allen's latest film, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," starring Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz.

But he really broke through when he decided to challenge the likes of Sogecable for supremacy in the highly lucrative world of pay TV sports coverage. Mediapro's bitter battle with Sogecable, the market leader in Spain in pay TV, has been dubbed "the soccer wars."

Sogecable, in which media conglomerate Grupo Prisa has a 48% stake, has looked increasingly vulnerable recently after coming under sustained attack from Mediapro over the rights to show soccer, Formula One and basketball.

But Roures' ambitions do not end there. This year, Mediapro launched the paid-for daily newspaper Publico, and Roures says he may add a radio station to its ever-expanding stable.

On paper, Mediapro, which last year joined forces with TV production house Grupo Arbol to form Grupo Imagina, looks very healthy. Its turnover for 2006 was €600 million ($863.5 million), with profits of €575 million ($828 million). Shareholders include WPP Group, the world's biggest advertising and marketing conglomerate.

At his unassuming open-plan offices outside Barcelona, Roures is friendly but straight to the point. The "soccer war" has provoked ongoing spats between Grupo Prisa executives and Roures. So when The Hollywood Reporter shows Roures a negative report in the Prisa-owned daily El Pais about Television Espanola's deal with Mediapro to distribute its programs in the U.S., he cannot resist biting back.

"I am surprised at the ease with which Grupo Prisa, through El Pais, seems to have abandoned their journalistic principles," he says.

Roures, a journalist by training, sees two challenges for the Spanish audiovisual industry in 2008.

"Firstly, for reasons of history there has been a lot of delay in the development of the industry here. There is a lack of education, information and training. In the world of technology we are behind.

"Secondly, there is a problem of dispersion — there are lots of small production companies. There are at least 14 or 13 companies. I am not saying we need to concentrate the industry only in the hands of one or two large companies. But we need to work together more strategically," he says.

Roures says Mediapro will make two more films with Allen in 2009 and 2012. "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is due out in Spain in the fall.

"So far, no contracts have been signed, but it is indisputable that we will work with Woody Allen again," Roures says.

Roures started working with Allen after reading that the director liked the Mediapro film "Mondays in the Sun," also starring Bardem. "I read that of his two favorite films that he had seen recently, one was 'Lunes al Sol,' a Mediapro production. We got in contact and it went from there," he says.

After filming "Vicky," Roures became embroiled in a row with local Spanish politicians and the media over claims about the public money Mediapro received.

"What I was angry about was the way people were not saying the truth about grants for the film," he says.

Roures said two major Mediapro film projects slated for 2008 are the Spanish Civil War drama "La Maternidad de Elna" and an as yet untitled film with Spanish shorts director Javier Fesser.

In his youth, Roures took part in demonstrations against the late Spanish dictator General Franco, so to him films like "La Maternidad" are more than mere commercial prospects. "It is true that we have made some films about this era because I think it is important that our children know that we should not return to that," he says.

Mediapro's free-to-air terrestrial TV channel La Sexta, launched just over a year ago, has done better than predicted, Roures says.

"It is going very well. We have got an audience share of 5%, which is more than we had predicted by this stage. It is a type of channel that is different from the rest," he says.