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How Netflix Is Upending The TV Industry In Mexico

Dec 2, 2019
Originally published on December 2, 2019 11:02 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Netflix is a global behemoth. It produces a ton of programming for the U.S. It's also rolling out shows in Europe, Asia and Latin America. In fact, Mexico is a big market for the streaming giant. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports from Mexico City on how Netflix has upended the TV industry there.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: This year has been a big one for Netflix in Mexico.

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KAHN: The streaming giant has pumped out a steady flow of documentaries, reality shows and scripted series, and it's not Mexican TV's usual fare of tacos and narcos.

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KAHN: Take the Netflix original hit "Casa De Las Flores" - "House Of Flowers" (ph) - back this year for a second season. The return of the dysfunctional de la Mora family premiered last month. Netflix says more than 6 million households worldwide tuned in. The show breaks from the old-fashioned telenovela, or soap opera, mold that still dominates Mexican TV. Season 1 screenwriter Monika Revilla says Netflix gave the show creators the freedom to break stereotypes.

MONIKA REVILLA: We all started brainstorming with what we felt was how we wanted to see our society reflected on TV that we hadn't seen before.

KAHN: And they definitely achieved that. There's a gay-straight love triangle, a prominent transgender character and storylines that include classism and racism. Revilla had long refused to work on telenovelas, limiting her opportunities, until Netflix came knocking.

REVILLA: Since "The House Of Flowers," I've been receiving offers all the time now. It's just like - it's a matter of choosing. It's really great.

KAHN: Netflix has given Mexico's entire TV and film industry a boost. Bela Bajaria, who heads international originals at Netflix, says she's trying to do more than just export Hollywood productions with non-English subtitles.

BELA BAJARIA: What we want to do is really give a platform and an environment for these storytellers in these countries to be able to tell the story in the most authentic way - I mean, really having people on the ground in those countries who come from there to be able to do this.

KAHN: Netflix says it will spend up to $200 million next year on original Mexican productions.

UNIDENTIFIED DIRECTOR: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: On a recent evening near downtown Mexico City, the director on the upcoming Netflix co-production "Dance Of The 41" starts the cameras rolling.

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KAHN: A long, narrow room has been transformed into a raucous, all-male dinner party illuminated by dozens of candles. The film focuses on a police raid of a gay party during Mexico's pre-revolutionary era.

Netflix's push into Mexico isn't just bold creativity. It's essential to its business strategy, says Jeff Wlodarczak, CEO and senior analyst at Pivotal Research Group.

JEFF WLODARCZAK: If you look at their growth this year, about 90% of their new subscribers are going to come from international.

KAHN: He says Netflix has an advantage now in Mexico, but competition is coming soon, with Disney+ and HBO Max headed for Latin America.

WLODARCZAK: If you want to win in this environment, you're probably going to have to spend the most on content and have the most robust offering.

KAHN: Like this new show Netflix just premiered, "Lorena The Light-Footed Woman." It's a documentary about an indigenous ultramarathon runner, something not frequently seen on broadcast Mexican TV.

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LORENA RAMIREZ: (Speaking Tarahumara).

KAHN: The 28-minute story is beautifully shot in Lorena's northern Mexican state, with much of the dialogue in her Tarahumara language.

Martha Olaiz says competition is good for TV in Mexico, but she's worried about the explosion of content. Olaiz was a writer for the Mexican production powerhouse Televisa for more than two decades.

MARTHA OLAIZ: They're doing too much too fast. I think that's a huge mistake.

KAHN: She says with the rush to produce, you're going to have a lot of bad shows mixed in with some good ones. She's not a fan of the second season of "House Of Flowers." The show lost its lead star, veteran Mexican actress Veronica Castro, and switched out its lead writer. Netflix says viewership is still high for the show, and fans love returning actress Cecilia Suarez. Her pill-popping character sporting an unmistakable accent is on full display in the opening scene from Season 2.

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CECILIA SUAREZ: (As Paulina de la Mora, speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Cecilia Suarez says Mexican and other international audiences are benefiting from the explosion in streaming content.

SUAREZ: We're in a very particular moment in that we as audience are ready for that and for more.

KAHN: Finally, you can turn on your TV and see more than just tacos and narcos. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.