Madrid emerges as TV series production hub

Actress Najwa Nimri at a photocall for the TV show “La Casa de Papel” in Madrid this month. Media firms are cashing in on the success of Spanish series. (AFP)
Updated 17 July 2019
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Madrid emerges as TV series production hub

  • Demand for content sparked by rise of subscription video-streaming services

MADRID: Media firms are racing to set up television production centres in Madrid following the runaway global success of Spanish series such as Netflix's crime caper "Money Heist".
Spanish multimedia group Mediapro and its foreign rivals Viacom and Netflix have set up shop or increased their activity in the Spanish capital to meet booming demand for content sparked by the rise of subscription video streaming services.
During a recent visit to Mediapro's studios north of Madrid, film crews were busily recording a dialogue between two actresses on a set depicting an upscale law office.
The scene will be used in a series that the company is producing for Spain's most watched television channel, Telecinco.
The company used to produce "two or three" series at that studio per year, now it makes 10 -- an "unimaginable" amount just a few years ago, said Javier Pons, who is in charge of television production at the firm.
Mediapro is also preparing a sitcom for HBO, which has a streaming service that competes with Netflix, as well as "projects" for other platforms that it could not discuss.
Producing series for a streaming service requires the "narration to be a bit different, so viewers get, in a way, addicted to the content" since users of the platforms tend to binge-watch shows, said Mediapro content director Javier Mendez.
Madrid's status as a new hub for TV series production was thrown into the spotlight when Netflix in April opened its first European production centre in Tres Cantos in the outskirts of the city.
The third season of "Money Heist", which Netflix will release worldwide on Friday, was filmed in this sprawling 22,000-square-metre (237,000-square-foot) complex.
The Emmy-winning series about a long-prepared, multiple-day assault on the Royal Mint of Spain is Netflix's most watched, non-English language show.
Initially broadcast on private Spanish TV channel Antena 3, the US streaming giant bought the series in late 2017 and re-released it worldwide, turning the show into a global phenomenon.
The unexpected success of the series weighed heavily on Netflix's decision to set up shop in Madrid, said Elena Neira, a specialist in new media at the Open University of Catalonia.
And the success of other Spanish series on streaming services such as "Elite" about teens at an exclusive private school in Madrid has led Spanish producers to set their sights higher, she added.
"For many people in Spain, who suddenly see Spanish content associated to a powerful brand like Netflix, it becomes much cooler than when it is broadcast on Antena 3," Neira said.
The number of TV series made in Spain rose to 58 last year from 38 in 2015, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report.
The sector contributed 655 million euros ($738 million) to Spain's economic output in 2018, up from 429 million euros in 2015, it added.
PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that Spain could produce 72 series a year once the sector is "consolidated", which would generate over 18,000 direct and indirect jobs, compared to less than 10,000 in 2015.
Media giant Viacom, which owns Paramount Pictures and TV stations such as MTV, announced in April that Madrid would be one of its hubs for the creation of Spanish-language content.
"I think there is at the moment a significant tendency to consume Spanish content, and in languages other than English, which boosts the opportunities to create here for the foreign market," said Viacom director of content for Spain and Portugal, Laura Abril.
The subscription streaming service market will grow faster in Spanish-speaking nations between 2018 and 2022 than in Britain or the United States, according to a forecast by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Spain, which has a long history of film and TV production, is taking advantage of the opportunity.
"We focus on the new platforms but all of this crystalised before," said Patricia Diego, a TV production professor at the University of Navarra.
She pointed out that "Money Heist" creator Alex Pina had been making series for Spanish TV stations for the past two decades.
Spain's relatively low salaries make it competitive to produce shows in the country, Diego added.
The sector is also getting a boost from new European Union rules due to come into effect in 2020 which will require streaming video providers like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video to dedicate at least 30 percent of their catalogues to European content.


Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

Updated 24 August 2019
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Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

  • Egyptian social startups are taking alternative approaches to fostering awareness and reducing waste
  • While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively

CAIRO: Global plastics production reached 348 million tons in 2017, rising from 335 million tons in 2016, according to Plastics Europe. 

Critically, most plastic waste is not properly managed: Around 55 percent of it was landfilled or discarded in 2015. These numbers are extremely concerning because plastic products take anything from 450 to 1,000 years to decompose, and the effects on the environment, especially on marine and human life, are catastrophic.

While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively.

“We’re the first website in the Middle East and North Africa that trades waste,” said Alaa Afifi, founder and CEO of Bekia. “People can get rid of any waste at their disposal — plastic, paper and cooking oil — and exchange it for over 65 products on our website.”

Products for trading include rice, tea, pasta, cooking oil, subway tickets and school supplies.

Bekia was launched in Cairo in 2017. Initially, the business model did not prove successful.

“We used to rent a car and go to certain locations every 40 days to collect waste from people,” Afifi, 26, explained. “We then created a website and started encouraging people to use it.”

After the website was launched, people could wait at home for someone to collect the waste. “Instead of 40 days, we now could visit people within a week.”

To use Bekia’s services, people need to log onto the website and specify what they want to discard. They are assigned points based on the waste they are offering, and these points can be used in one of three ways: Donated to people in need, saved for later, or exchanged for products. As for the collected waste, it is given to specialized recycling companies for processing.

“We want to have 50,000 customers over the next two years who regularly use our service to get rid of their waste,” Afifi said.  

Trying to spread environmental awareness has not been easy. “We had a lot of trouble with initial investment at first, and we got through with an investment that was far from enough. The second problem we faced was spreading this culture among people — in the first couple of months, we received no orders,” Afifi said.

The team soldiered on and slowly built a client base, currently serving 7,000 customers. In terms of what lies ahead for Bekia, he said: “We’re expanding from 22 to 30 areas in Cairo this year. We’re launching an app very soon and a new website with better features.”

Go Clean, another Egyptian recycling startup dedicated to raising environmental awareness, works under the patronage of the Ministry of Environment. “We started in 2017 by recycling waste from factories, and then by February 2019 we started expanding,” said founder and CEO Mohammed Hamdy, 30.

The Cairo-based company collects recyclables from virtually all places, including households, schools, universities, restaurants, cafes, companies and embassies. The customers separate the items into categories and then fill out a registration form. Alternatively, they can make contact through WhatsApp or Facebook. A driver is then dispatched to collect the waste, carrying a scale to weigh it. 

“The client can be paid in cash for the weight of their recyclables, or they can make a donation to a special needs school in Cairo,” Hamdy explained. There is also the option of trading the waste for dishwashing soap, with more household products to be added in the future.

Trying to cover a country with 100 million people was never going to be easy, and Go Clean faced some logistical problems. It overcame them by hiring more drivers and getting more trucks. There was another challenge along the way: “We had to figure out a way to train the drivers, from showing them how to use GPS and deal with clients,” said Hamdy.

“We want to spread awareness about the environment everywhere. We go to schools, universities, companies and even factories to give sessions about the importance of recycling and how dangerous plastic is. We’re currently covering 20 locations across Cairo and all of Alexandria. We want to cover all of Egypt in the future,” he added.

With a new app on the way, Hamdy said things are looking positive for the social startup, and people are becoming invested in the initiative. “We started out with seven orders per day, and now we get over 100.”