Karen Barroeta, Executive VP of Production and Development at Telemundo Global Studios; spoke to ttvnews about the US Hispanic giant’s original fiction production initiatives, the opening of its studios in Mexico and the projects currently in production.
Telemundo Global Studios (TGS) is the production studio owned by NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, one of the world’s leading and largest creators of Spanish-language content.
Heading the division since July 6, 2020 as Executive VP of Production and Development, Karen Barroeta spoke to ttvnews about the group’s original fiction production initiatives, the opening of its studios in Mexico and the projects currently in production.
How do you feel in this leadership role of an NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises-branded production studio and what are the challenges ahead?
I’ve taken on this role with great enthusiasm. I have been preparing for many years to get here. There have been more than 20 years of career where I’ve had the joy of being able to cover areas, from strategy, marketing, sales, business, promotions; and they’ve given me the ability to assume this position. It arrived at the appropriate time. I am very excited, very happy with the challenge, which is gigantic, but I feel very comfortable in this role,
What is TGS’ strategic vision in the current context of global content production and distribution?
Telemundo is a well-known brand. We have been working, and when I say “we” have, it is not only from the point of view that I am now part of Telemundo, but that I have been part since we started producing with the company more than 20 years ago. We have built a brand internationally. A brand that in the US we raises from 0 to 150. We are very happy to be able to say that we are one of the leading producers of high-quality production in Spanish.
We have always sought to have a brand that presents unique, original, surprising and unpredictable stories, and where the talent we attract, both behind and in front of the cameras, wants to be on Telemundo, wants to be part of our stories. Stories that are seen not only in the US, both linearly and on platforms, but also travel the world and are seen by millions of people. The strategy continues to be to create those unique stories that catch and attract not only millions of consumers, but also the talent that works with us.
What production models are you most comfortable with at TGS?
Telemundo Global Studios is a production company that can adapt to the needs of any client in the US or the world. We grew and created a know-how that took us years to develop, and today we feel very comfortable working for our main client, which is the network in the US, but also working as a production service or, of course, co-productions such as, for example, with Inter Medya in Turkey, and some in Latin America. We have already done it with Caracol, RCN, Disney, Globo. We are certain that we can adapt to any of the production models.
TGS announced the opening of a new production unit in Mexico. What are the plans in this regard?
Telemundo’s strategy, supported by NBCUniversal and Comcast, has been to invest in content, because content is the king of this industry. It doesn’t matter where you watch it, but if it’s Telemundo’s content, the Telemundo brand, then we’re investing in the business’ biggest strength: content.
It is a natural step for Telemundo Global Studios to be able to open a production house in Mexico, because Mexiwood is one of the key production territories in Latin America, where a very high percentage of production is taking place. Obviously, Argentina and Colombia are also, but in the northern cone, Mexico is a key territory. Today maybe 50 or 60 series are being produced, mostly short-form. As we produce in long format, we have a very high presence in terms of hours, and we are going to be producing both long and short format. We have always been present in Mexico, but through third parties. Being able to be there now is a luxury. We are super happy to be able to have the reins of our business.
Is the unit in Mexico already operational?
I was just there recently, meeting with the entire team that runs the day-to-day work of Telemundo Global Studios Mexico, and also with the team that is already working on the pre-production of The Lord of the Skies S8, which is going to be our first production. It is a super ambitious production, very large, with more than 100 locations, more than 45 star actors. Besides that, we have guest stars, day players, extras… it’s going to be a gigantic production.
Which is the status of this production?
We have a production model that is unique, because we don’t just use the pre-production weeks that are used in the industry. In our case we have eight additional weeks, which we call overproduction, where we bring the key creative team to work on a style manual that allows us to take quality to the next level in each project. Being able to work on a production design from the areas of art direction, costumes, image; be super thorough. Also with the direction of photography, with direction, and being able to model how we want that project from all areas. We have already started the second stage of pre-production. We kick off the eight weeks of the countdown, to start production the third week of September.
A strategic alliance with Turkey’s Inter Medya for the co-development of original content was announced in May. What does this agreement imply and which projects have the green light?
The Turkish product has achieved a wonderful popularity in Latin America and we had the opportunity to ride that wave with them. The idea is to co-produce in Turkey and be a part, not only of choosing the projects, co-developing and co-producing them, but also being able to have that little piece of product, and I say little, but we are sharing 50-50, to be able to have more product for our portfolio and for our international sales.
We are defining what the first project will be. I was just in Turkey a few weeks ago, and I was meeting to look at all the possibilities. We are happy with what we have in front of us. Very soon we will be sharing what that first project will be. We think it would be for 2023.
How many hours of original content does TGS currently produce?
We are developing and producing a gigantic number of hours. Between production and development we are going to be in the 600 hours, including Turkey and everything we do in the US, as in the rest of Latin America.
What other original fiction projects does TGS currently have?
We are currently producing El Conde, starring Fernando Colunga, Ana Contreras, Chantal Andere, Sergio Sender, Marjorie de Souza; in very important roles. We are producing on location in Mexico and also on set. It’s a contemporary period drama, which takes place in two periods, first in 1930 and then goes to 1950. It has these two super cute stages visually. It’s going to air next year on the network. We are already halfway through production, which takes three units, around 300 or 400 people, not counting extras. When we work on location there are a lot of actors on the set. It is a production that fills us with pride.
We are also three weeks away from starting pre-production in Miami on a suspenseful thriller drama, which we will be producing at our studios. It is a story that takes place in Los Angeles. Some things will be done there, but the bulk will be in our Miami studios. In three weeks we will be unveiling the entire cast. It still has Guilty or Innocent as its working title. We will be revealing the name very soon.
With the acquisition of Underground, TGS added an exciting creative powerhouse to its ranks. What stories and projects are you receiving from Argentina?
Underground is an incredible creative boutique, where there are some minds that have worked in TV for many years. Both Sebastián [Ortega] and Pablo [Culell] and the rest of the team are people with incredible expertise in the industry. Everything that is coming out of there is wonderful. We are very happy with the acquisition. They also produced a couple of short-form fiction series that we’re going to be seeing very soon and they continue to develop that, both factual and fictional. We know that in Argentina creativity is immense and unlimited, and with Underground we have that source of creativity that pleases us a lot.
What is the value of IP for TGS in the current context of the television industry?
We are investing a lot of resources and time in developing more than 25 projects at the moment, obviously in different stages. We are investing to be able to give that development the best team of writers and the right time, always taking into account how relevant the project may be depending on where it is going and what the audience is. We are investing in generating IPs, super series, cliffhangers, what people want to watch today, in long form and short form.
How do you see this moment in the content and media industry and where does TGS stand?
We are experiencing a spectacular moment, of irruption, of historical changes, where we no longer decide what people are going to see, or where or when, but rather we have to focus on what we are going to produce and solidify our brands, because that is what matters in the end. Our vision and mission of creating content that gets people talking That is the most important mission for Telemundo.
Where is content in Spanish located today?
It is nice to see how productions in Spanish are being watched worldwide and can be in the Top Ten in all these streaming services. It is a great responsibility to continue to hold the bar high so that this continues to be the case. Our investment is in the development of great stories that can transcend cultures, languages, geographies… That’s what today’s world is all about, creating memorable stories.