Disney’s Leonardo Aranguibel Talks Star Plus, Post-Pandemic OTT Predictions

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Leonardo Aranguibel, VP of productions & development for The Walt Disney Company LatAm, joined moderator Nicolás Smirnoff, director of Prensario International, on Tuesday afternoon to discuss OTT platforms, Disney’s Star Plus, and the predicted future of original Latin American content.

The conversation formed part of Ventana Sur’s virtual industry panel series.

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OTT services, like Disney Plus, broaden content accessibility, allowing for vast consumer freedom. They’ve been crucial in the distribution of global content during the pandemic. As viewers stray further from traditional cable outlets, the OTT model has adapted to modern markets, largely consisting of consumers who relish the freedom and range they offer.

Smirnoff promptly asked for an assessment on nuanced approaches to streaming.

The self-proclaimed eternal optimist in Aranguibel relayed, “It’s extremely positive despite the circumstances that the industry, and the whole planet, have been through the last two years. We’ve faced a new challenge. It’s been a wonderful challenge that everyone on the production team was very excited to tackle.”

On the heels of the successful launch of Disney Plus and Star Plus, he spoke to acclaimed projects they’ve recently moved to market.

“A few days ago, we’re proud to have released internationally on all Disney Plus platforms our first-ever original content simultaneously in North America, Europe, and Latin America, called ‘Entrelazados,’ he said. He added: “we’ve also been through the line-up for Star Plus. For example, ‘Limbo,’ a series we’ll release in the first months of 2022, was selected for competition at Canneseries, where we went in October. It was the only Latin American series out of 10 selected from all over the world.”

When asked to discuss the differences between producing content for broadcasters and channels vs. streaming platforms, Aranguibel admits to seizing time to hone the craft.

“The point we’re transiting is the consequence of 20 years of experience we have in the region, making local productions, creating original content. We’ve walked every step of the path that brought us here, so intensely,” he stated.

He then reminded the audience of powerhouse projects “Violetta,” “Soy Luna” and “Hasta Que Te Conocí, Monzón,” that were made in the past two decades, which he partially credits for the profound growth of the Latin American market.

While some moving parts feel the same to Aranguibel, he admits, the magnitude of the work has evolved.

“To go from six, seven, maybe 10 productions a year tops, which made us practically a boutique company working almost exclusively with specific broadcasters, almost by request because they wanted us to produce their projects. Now, we’re producing over 100 projects, we’ve calculated we’ll be working on nearly 130 projects next year to supply both our platform networks,” he stated, predicting, “the number of productions won’t only hold steady, but likely increase.”

Smirnoff then asked how he could effortlessly go from producing 10 projects a year to more than 100 while keeping a keen eye on individual stories.

Stressing the importance of curating a strong faction, he replied, “We look for the best possible teams to support us. There are tons in our region. We look for the best talents, not only in front of the cameras but also behind the cameras. The best professionals in each market.”

Next, the discussion naturally veered into current trends in streaming and Aranguibel poetically stated, “The audiovisual language has become much more dynamic, exactly like spoken languages. Spoken languages incorporate all of these contractions and help make the communication process much more agile.”

Both Aranguibel and Smirnoff agreed that notable patterns have emerged among viewers, as they tend to binge-watch short, more succinct content that keeps them interested rather than lengthy episodes they can’t fit in before bed. Both also stated that micro series have a real shot at becoming the next trend.

“I think that path is already open for shorter episodes. No doubt about it, in a genre you’d think would be the last to go there, drama,” Aranguibel said. He then mentioned the Amazon series “Homecoming” featuring Julia Roberts, a prime example and the first 24-minute-long drama he’d seen.

The duo then touched on keeping up amidst a sea of competing content. Aranguibel declared, “10-12 years ago you’d see around 40-50 important series and productions worldwide, mostly from three North American Networks, The BBC, RAI, and maybe a couple from Spanish Broadcasters. There were no more than 40-50 TV series. Today, we have over 600 a year. I mean, this scenario would terrify anyone who had no connection to their audience.”

He then emotionally assured Smirnoff, “That’s not us. We love it. We’re fascinated by this. Keep it rolling. It excites us, motivates us, drives us forward. That’s our nourishment. The competition essentially keeps the industry growing. I think the audience is fascinated with the model, and it will last for a long time.”

Throughout the discussion, Aranguibel wasn’t short on pride for Latin American talent. When Smirnoff asked him to regale them some more by discussing the advantages of producing in the region, he was happy to oblige.

“Although we’re a continent that, in many aspects, seems like a solid continent that’s the same all over, it’s actually very diverse.” He added: “We have absolutely nothing to envy, nothing at all. On the contrary, we have incredibly amazing professionals who are extremely committed.”

He sees the region as brimming with an endless array of exceptional storytelling and remarked, “After all, we are the cradle of magical realism, we are the cradle of an exceptional literary movement from the second half of the 20th century that took the literary world by storm, all over the planet. We have so many stories to tell, and that’s our goal.”

As the panel wound down, Smirnoff asked Aranguibel to look sheepishly to the future to predict the further evolution of television, the next big thing.

Aranguibel, amused, recalled a Venezuelan writer who had a late-night talk show where he’d answer audience questions. When pressed by a viewer to relay what he thought would be the next great invention of our time, he said, “If I knew what was coming next, I’d have invented it already myself.”

As Smirnoff playfully pressed a bit further, Aranguibel relented and concluded that, “I think, what could be a revolutionary change in the coming years is viewer interaction. I think we’re going towards a world where audiences will be less and less passive and become active viewers.”

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