In 1986, the Latin American TV scene was starting to emerge as a force in the export market (so much so that VideoAge launched a Spanish-language version, VideoEra). At the time it was the first such publication for the LATAM sector.

VideoEra enjoyed but a brief shelf life because — even though the territory was awash with television-related activities — it had not yet reached the “critical mass” needed to support a trade publication. Add to that the fact that the content sellers, mostly Americans, were still struggling with collections in that vast territory, and were thus less inclined to promote their shows in LATAM.

It took another decade or so until the true LATAM content export market explosion, which was greeted by no fewer than 10 Spanish-language trade publications for that territory alone. The first one was born in Miami, Florida, in 1990. VideoAge returned to Spanish-language articles shortly thereafter, in 1994, but only as part of its main editions.

The international market for Latin American TV content took off in a big way in the late 1980s with telenovelas, mainly from Brazil’s Rede Globo and Mexico’s Protele (from Televisa).

In the 1990s, no fewer than 10 additional LATAM distributors entered the international market, with such companies as Coral (RCTV), Telefe, ARTEAR, Tepuy, and Television Latina (from Venevision).

By 2001, with the increased activity of the Central and Eastern European (CEE) and former Soviet territories (CIS) — which were also served up on a silver platter by the DISCOP markets in Budapest as early as 1994 — telenovelas from LATAM companies weren’t sitting on shelves for very long. Stations couldn’t even wait to receive the cassette tapes, and instead took the content straight from the distributors’ DVDs.

Even though the CEE and CIS markets were cooling off by 2007, LATAM’s pinnacle wasn’t reached until 2013 when MIPCOM declared Argentina to be that year’s Country of Honor. This happened again in 2014 when the same honor went to Mexico (shown in the front cover photo).

It was just one year later when the first cracks started to show at the base of the LATAM export industry. Venezuela’s Venevision left the field, following an earlier exit by Venezuela’s Coral-RCTV.

Then, in 2016, Argentina’s ARTEAR opted out of the world’s TV content sales market, which was soon followed by Telefe as an international brand, when it was acquired by Viacom. By then, Argentina was left with just two exporting brand companies: Telefilms and Ledafilms, but only for LATAM territories. Earlier, in 2007, Tepuy, a Spanish-Venezuelan company based in the U.S., was acquired by Telemundo, owned by the U.S. TV network NBC.

In 2016, Colombia’s Caracol, too, began curtailing its international marketing efforts, while Mexico’s Televisa drastically reduced its own. Traditionally, Caracol was Colombia’s brand builder, while the competing RCN took on a marginal role on the international content sales scene.

Despite the stormy prospects, the large LATAM companies wanted to save face, so they kept marching on. However, it wasn’t until Televisa came out into the open in 2017 with its tales of international woe, that LATAM content export really started to decline.

It didn’t take long before Mexico’s TV Azteca and Comarex followed Televisa’s path. Even the once mighty Rede Globo became marginalized, with only Record TV left to keep the flame burning and wave the Brazilian flag.

Then, in 2017, the region lost another of the great brand builders when Telemundo Internacional ended its solo operations and was absorbed into its parent company, NBCUniversal. The competing Univision was never a big force outside the U.S. Hispanic TV market, so this was a big blow.

The turmoil was also reflected at the annual Jornadas TV conference in Buenos Aires, which, in 2015, began losing exhibitors and participants in droves.

NATPE Budapest and the ATF in Singapore — which in the early 2000s were hotbeds for LATAM companies — saw significant drop-off from LATAM participants. In 2017, there were just three LATAM exhibitors at the ATF, versus 10 the previous year.

Peru attempted to make some inroads in the international TV content scene in 2016, but to date it has not yet been able to take flight. Meanwhile, Chile encountered some success during the wave of co-productions with Telemundo Internacional when it could take advantage of Telemundo’s marketing strength, but soon thereafter, with the company being folded into its parent group, Chile returned to the sidelines as far as its international presence was concerned.

But that wasn’t always the case. Chile had its own spot in the sun when Osvaldo Barzelatto started his own company, RTL, in 1979 in Santiago de Chile. It became one of the largest TV content sales companies in LATAM. RTL became famous for hosting lavish luncheons at NATPE and at the L.A. Screenings. RTL lasted until 2005, when Barzelatto retired.

It should be pointed out that international TV content exports from LATAM were driven by TV networks’ own productions (e.g., Venevision, Telefe, Caracol, Televisa, etc.). The changing business environment pushed these TV networks to seek co-ventures with local production companies that were driven by commissions from the U.S. studios, which retained the international distribution rights. This development was a boon for local producers — especially from Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina. They multiplied like rabbits, but deprived the LATAM export market of content rights.

Less affected by this new paradigm were Brazil’s Record TV (which continues to have a florid production slate) and, for the LATAM market, Argentina’s Telefilms and Ledafilms, which are mostly driven by U.S. film content.

Today, a group of very capable leaders — like TV Azteca’s Alberto Ciurana, Televisa’s Jeff Symon, and Comarex’s Marcel Vinay Jr. — are working to restore LATAM as a source of good content for the international TV market. But with increased competition — especially from Turkish companies — and reduced marketing power, it will be an uphill battle.

Audio Version (a DV Works service)

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