The SVOD booming is contributing to the growth of the Spanish documentary industry

Otros Mundos

Documentaries produced in Spain have managed to gain a foothold in the competitive and overpopulated SVOD market.

After the successful bet on the production of TV dramas, digital platforms have started to invest in non-fiction content to further differentiate their offer from their competitors.

The demand for these SVOD services, which had been growing at a high rate in recent years, has increased dramatically following the start of the quarantine caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Thus, documentaries are occupying a prominent place among the preferences of confined users.

This exceptional situation may help to consolidate the booming that the documentary genre has already experienced, although the great challenge now, as in other audiovisual sectors, is to reactivate production as soon as possible to continue supplying content to these operators.

Fiction has acquired great prestige in the international market, but this has also highlighted that in a number of areas in Spain it is produced with a very high level of quality, significantly in the documentary field,” explains Víctor Carrera, Director of International Sales for the Catalan public channel TV3.

Digital platforms have contributed to increasing the number of windows for the marketing of audiovisual content. And more windows means more funding opportunities.

Although investment in documentaries by SVOD operators is becoming increasingly important, public televisions remain the main driver of funding for the sector.

However, the multiplicity of windows that the SVOD booming has triggered, is allowing the generation of market niches in which documentaries can be more easily accommodated than in generalist networks.


Netflix: Original and Licensed Documentaries 


Netflix began producing documentaries in Spain in 2018. As with its fiction series and feature films, in documentaries, Netflix combines original and licensed content. 


"The Alcàsser Murders,” a mini-series produced by Ramón Campos, co-founder of Bambú Producciones was Netflix's first original Spanish documentary series. Then followed "Two Catalonias,” by Morena Films, and "Parchís. The documentary,” by Inedit Films.

The most recent original documentary on this platform is “Money Heist, the Phenomenon,"Vancouver Media production that explores the global success of Álex Pina's series. 


Netflix has also acquired the broadcasting rights of "What the Truth Hides: The Asunta Case,” a Bambú production initially made for Atresmedia. 


The dominant sub-genre in the documentary field is true-crime, which includes both "The Alcàsser Murders" and "Asunta", as well as “Death in León" a docuseries by renowned documentary filmmaker Justin Webster, which Movistar Plus broadcast in 2016 and was taken up by HBO Spain last year as a feature-length documentary under the title "Death in León. Closed Case." 


Movistar Plus, Telefónica's digital platform which leads the subscription TV market in Spain, has become one of the main showcases for the documentary industry. 


The operator works annually with more than 70 different distributors, which allows displaying a wide and varied offer. 


We acquire documentaries from all over the world, and despite the great international competition this represents for Spain, more and more agreements are being closed with Spanish distributors for the acquisition of documentaries, [which currently represent] just over 30%," explains María Pilar Canales, Head of Audiovisual Rights Purchasing. 


From the point of view of distribution, the time for documentaries has not yet come, as digital platforms invest more in the production of originals," states Carlos Sevillano, Founder of Ártico Distribución, an external agent in the international sales of RTVE’s documentaries.





For its channel #0, Movistar Plus presented last year a first lineup of original non-fiction content, which included the documentary mini-series "Under Listening. The Defendant, a true-crime produced by Movistar in collaboration with Bambú, under the executive production of Ramón Campos and David Miralles, directed by Isaki Lacuesta -two times winner of the Golden Shell of the San Sebastian Film Festival-. 


Together with La Caña Brothers, Movistar has also produced the documentary series "Other Worlds: The Mystery of the Pharaohs” and “ETA, the End of Silence.” 


Other titles include "The Heart of the Empire” produced by Global Set"El Palmar de Troya,” in collaboration with 100 Balas, by The Mediapro Studio, and 93 Metros, a company that also participates in "Spies,” a documentary series on international espionage by David Beriain.

In documentary series, digital platforms are now looking for stories that are deeply rooted in Spain, stories that connect directly with our country," says Campos. 


Documentaries have been influenced by fiction narrative and what the platforms are looking for are documentaries with a dramatic arc, with a more cinematic way of telling stories,” adds Elena Mera, coordinator of Treeline Distribución. 


For its part, HBO Spain, in addition to premiering “Death in León. Closed Case,”  inaugurated last year the production of original non-fiction content with "The Pioneer”, about Jesús Gil, former president of Atlético de Madrid, also produced with JWP. 


Right now I think that true-crime is suffering from 'exhaustion' and that political/social analysis and documentaries on extravagant characters are going to rise," predicts Campos.



Sports Documentaries


Sport is the main theme of Amazon Prime Video's documentary production in Spain, which is often guaranteed to be broadcast in other territories such as the United States and Latin America.


Together with The Mediapro Studio and JWP, Amazon produced the documentary series "Six Dreams,” in 2018, which won two Daytime Emmys. The Mediapro Studio is also behind the original Amazon series "All or Nothing" and is preparing "Fernando," a portrait of the Formula 1 world champion, Fernando Alonso.


With Atresmedia Studios, Amazon has just announced an agreement for the production of "Carolina Marín: I Can Because I Think I Can," after the production of "Fernando Torres, El último símbolo.


Other Amazon Original series are "The Heart of Sergio Ramos," by Love Productions, and "La Quinta de la quinta,” produced by the Spanish Football Federation.


Following the success of "Six Dreams", The Mediapro Studio and JWP have signed an agreement to develop at least six documentary projects in three years.


This alliance, with the international market in focus, seeks to fill a niche in the growing demand for narrative non-fiction productions, with real stories told through the characters. 


In addition to the main VOD operators, other platforms are also committed to this genre, in many cases allowing online access to Spanish documentaries from other markets. 


Thus, FlixOlé, by producer Enrique Cerezo, has incorporated “Quinqui Stars,” which was one of last year’s phenomena, produced by Dexiderius and Galoproductions, into its extensive catalog of Spanish documentaries. Eighty percent of the titles in this service is also available outside Spain. 


Atresplayer Premium, from the Atresmedia group, which by the end of March already had 235,000 subscribers, has just produced its first original documentary in collaboration with the company Happy Ending. This is "Let's say I'm talking about Joaquín” about the singer Joaquín Sabina, a three-episode miniseries that can also be seen in Latin America and the United States.


Filmin, a predominantly arthouse audiovisual content service, offers a wide range of Spanish documentaries through its almost 60 thematic channels. These include Cinema Lessons," an educational channel that includes a series of documentaries by filmmaker Jonás Trueba and the production company Los Ilusos Films.


(Image from the documentary series "Other Worlds: The Mystery of the Pharaohs", produced by La Caña Brothers for Movistar Plus)