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Amazon MGM Studios’ James Farrell Outlines Strategy for Original Content in Spain, Globally Following ‘Red Queen’ Premiere (EXCLUSIVE)

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A sign of Spain’s rising profile as a top market for Prime Video, Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon MGM Studios, and James Farrell, the L.A.-based VP of international originals at Prime Video, flew to Madrid this week, with the world premiere of “Red Queen” (“Reina Roja”), the series adaption of the first book in Juan Gómez-Jurado’s hit trilogy, taking place on Monday night. 

The streamer is rolling off the record-breaking finale of its first weekly live entertainment show “Operación Triunfo,” and has revealed that the top three of the the ten most-watched Spanish Originals of 2023 – “My Fault,” “Awareness” and “Los Farad” – have received on average 80% of streams outside of Spain, reaching a milestone for the international reach of Prime Video’s non-English language content. 

“The last 12 months has been a truly remarkable time for Spanish-language content,” said Salke, head of Amazon MGM Studios at Prime Video. “[That’s] not just with our global audiences, but also with critics and voters, having seen Prime Video’s ‘Argentina, 1985’ nominated for an Academy Award and our Mexican Original ‘La Caída’ winning at the International Emmy Awards.” 

“This year is set to be even bigger for our Spanish-language movies and series, starting with the stunning ‘Reina Roja’ coming next,” Salke continued. 

Set for a Feb. 29 launch, “Red Queen” world premiered at Madrid’s iconic Teatro Fernán Gómez on Monday night with cast members, including Victoria Luengo, Hovik Keuchkerian, Àlex Brendemühl, Nacho Fresneda, Celia Freijeiro, directors Koldo Serra and Julián de Tavira and Spanish celebrities including the stars of “Operación Triunfo,” along with Farrell and Maria Jose Rodríguez Perez, head of Spanish Originals at Amazon Studios

The list of the 10 most watched original content is topped by “My Fault” (“Culpa mia”), which is based on Mercedes Ron’s best-selling “Culpables’”book trilogy. Released in June 2023, it became Prime Video’s biggest non-English language launch in Prime Video history since its release, and ranked in the Top Ten Most Watched Titles in over 190 countries including U.S., U.K., Australia, India, Argentina and France. In 2023, almost 90% of total streams for “My Fault” came from outside Spain, the movie’s country of origin. A sequel has been produced under the title “Your Fault” and will soon launch on Prime Video.

Breaking down, Prime Video’s Top 10 most-watched Spanish-language Original movies and series, it looks like scale may matter: Marinao Barroso’s “Los Farad,” Prime Video’s top Spanish-language series last year, is a big-canvas upscale family saga thriller unspooling against the background of the ’80s arms trade in Marbella. “The Head of Joaquín Murrieta,” beginning in 1848 California, a revisionist Western where the Mexicans are the good guys, and gringos the baddies, is another big play; as is “Zorro,” reportedly going gangbusters in viewer figures from a select territory Prime Video release in North and Latin America and Spain.

That bodes well for “Red Queen,” boasting the stars of two of the most acclaimed Spanish series in recent years, and for other Prime Video big plays later in the year.

But if scale can matter, so do other considerations. “My Fault” is a straight to the jugular romantic melodrama swing for YA audiences; Chile’s “Sayen” movies are Mapuche female warrior actioners among four titles in the Top 10 that cold be described as action thrillers. In other words Amazon and Prime Video are hitting multiple marks. 

Speaking to Variety following the premiere of “Red Queen,” Farrell and Rodriguez Perez outlined the streamer’s vision for original programming across the globe and in Spain, where they plan on replicating the success of “Operación Triunfo” which was renewed for a second season after luring more than 3.5 million estimated unique viewers in 14 weeks and breaking engagement records. 

Why was it important for Amazon Studios to host a red carpet world premiere for “Red Queen”?

Maria Jose Rodriguez Perez: “Red Queen” is such a big book here in Spain. It has been the most read book for three consecutive years. It has an incredible base of fans. So we did a premiere in eight cities at the same time so that all our customers could have the experience, not just the ones based on Madrid.

You have a big pipeline of original programming in Spain, don’t you?

James Farrell: It’s been an amazing run here for the team in Spain both on stuff that’s worked well locally and traveled like “My Fault” and “Los Farad” and I think everybody’s pretty positive about “Red Queen” this week. But then also stuff like “Operacion Triunfo” which everybody didn’t have the expectation that it was going to travel the world, but that was okay. We just needed it to be a big cultural moment for the service here in Spain and that’s exactly what it did. So it’s amazing how the team has balanced those things. Stuff that’s built for a global audience, built for younger audience and general audience.

Why do think Spanish content travels so well?

JF: It’s something we talk about a lot internally because obviously there’s no obvious answer or everybody would just do it. So why does the content from Spain travel so well? Is it because we’re making great stuff? Yes. Is it because there’s a lot of Spanish speakers in the world? Yes.

It’s also because of the beats of Spanish content, the rhythm to it, the fact that it’s universal. It’s not hyper localized. You see that people are familiar with American content, so they’re used to those beats. People love Korean content also because it’s got these soapy beats to it. So it’s hard to pin down why the content from Spain is so popular everywhere, but it certainly is.

What’s the common thread between the Spanish shows and original movies that have been so successful?

JF: They’re all based on the characters. When I watch content from other countries or we hear pitches for upcoming films or TV series, people say, “This is going to be set during World War II or it’s going to be about a kidnapping.” It’s plot focused, whereas all the pitches for all the shows and films in Spain, they’re all character focused. So even if it’s about kidnapping, like “Red Queen,” the opening scene is about the characters.

MJRP: Yes, you have to engage with the story you’re telling and the characters of that story. And what happened here in Spain that during the last few years, we had the opportunity to be able to produce big shows, big series, and we have invested in the local team of creators and producers. We have created a big pool of production companies and creators. We love to work with the best talent in front and behind the camera. For instance “Los Farad” is produced by Mod Producciones which won an Oscar and directed by Mariano Barroso. But we also love to give opportunities to new voices. We’re also going to launch “Hildegart,” produced by Maria Zamora, a leading female producer, later this year.

What kind of local partnerships can you make on original programming?
MJRP: The good thing with Prime Video in Spain is that we have all the possible models. We have the local regional model where we invest and we produce a whole film or show, and we also have the acquisition model where we can pivot to that part. So for us, the moment, the starting point of what we think is what is best for the project.

How do you decide what’s for the local market and what’s to launch on every single market?

JF: It’s at time of green light. Everything has to be local to start. We don’t make content in France or Spain that we say, “Well, this isn’t going to work in France and then make it in France.” That wouldn’t make any sense. It’s at the time of green light, after you see the cast finalized, once shooting starts, you start seeing the first cuts. Then you start watching and you’re like, “everybody’s going to like this around the world.” And then you ramp up localization into 30 plus languages. You ramp up global marketing to categorize it, to make sure every country in the world has the marketing assets ready in their local language, you spend that extra time and money.

You’ve also adapted popular local content into other markets, like “LOL”?

JF: Yes, of course for scripted and unscripted. We think about it on our international titles, remaking them and also on some of the U.S. titles and now that Amazon and MGM are together we’ve got a great library of MGM titles we’ve thought about. Should we remake some of these titles in local countries? So yes, it is something we talk about quite a bit.

Is there something from Spain that you think of remaking into other countries?

MJRP: Yes, one of the greatest things about working on Prime Video is that you have the possibility to work with a lot of people from different countries so we are always having this type of conversations.

JF: Yes, the OT (“Operación Triunfo”). That was a super big risk and a step that the Spain team took. As far as I know, no streamer has had success with a live music reality competition yet. And it’s not cheap and you have to do a lot of things with the product and collaborations with YouTube and social media. We had to hire a bunch of contractors to build voting mechanisms and all those things that we didn’t have, that nobody has, and then it was such a big hit here. Everybody’s now scrambling in the other countries around the world, and I’m sure at other services, too.

Are you also looking at doing more live shows and live events?

MJRP: We have already said that we are going to do a second season of OT(“Operación Triunfo”) because we really love what has happened here in the country. And yeah, I think that we have opened the door to keep on doing this type of show.

Top 10 most-watched Spanish-language Original movies and series on Prime Video in 2023:

  1. My Fault / ‘Culpa mia’ (Movie, Spain, June 2023)
  2. Awareness (Movie, Spain, Oct 2023)
  3. Sayen (Movie, Chile, March 2023)
  4. The Initiated (Movie, Colombia, July 2023)
  5. “Los Farad” (TV Series, Spain, Dec 2023)
  6. “The Head of Joaquin Murrieta (TV Series, Mexico, Feb 2023)
  7. “Sayen: Desert Road” (Movie, Chile, Oct 2023)
  8. “No Traces” (TV Series, Spain, March 2023)
  9. “Barrabrava Season 1” (TV Series, Argentina, June 2023)
  10. “De viaje con los Derbez” Season 3 (TV Series, Mexico, Nov 2023)