Oscar Dances To Latino Beat This Year16 Feb, 2007 By: Angelique Flores
Alejandro Gonzßlez I±ßrritu and Brad Pitt on the set of Babel.
This year's Oscar nominations seemed to affirm the country's growing multiculturalism — and Hollywood's seeming infatuation with all things Latino.
Mexican-born directors Alejandro González Iñárritu, Guillermo Del Toro and Alfonso Cuar?n — dubbed the “Three Amigos” — commanded the spotlight. Iñárritu's Babel picked up seven noms, Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth has six, and Cuar?n's Children of Men has three. Spanish actress Penelope Cruz is up for best actress for her role in Pedro Almod?var's Volver, while Adriana Barraza is up for a best supporting actress Oscar for her role in Babel.
In the home-entertainment arena, none of this is much of a surprise. The rapid growth of the DVD sellthrough business over the past few years has seen the emergence of a parallel Spanish-language DVD industry seeking to capitalize on the country's estimated 28.1 million Spanish speakers and their estimated $863.1 billion in buying clout.
With its huge demographic, Latinos are strong DVD buyers with high buy rates, said Eva Davis, VP of targeted acquisitions and marketing for Warner Home Video. Studio research shows that Latinos are huge consumers of entertainment. In 2004, U.S. Latinos purchased 155 million DVDs — 16% of the total number.
“For us, it is really important to focus on the consumer, and we know that by 2010, one in six American consumers will be Latino,” Davis said. “Within that space, there is a Spanish-language segment that is small, but still vibrant, and up 14% in units in 2006 over 2005.”
Other labels devoted to the Latin DVD business see stronger growth.
“The Latin DVD market is still growing solid — 20% to 25% over last year,” said Elart Coello, president of Laguna Productions Inc., which has been in this market since 1990.
Indeed, the DVD market for Spanish-language product in the United States has grown in both quantity and diversity. The home-video arms of major studios such as Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. have launched “multicultural” divisions to tap into this growing market by identifying its wants and needs and then catering to them. Warner took some steps in 2005 when it launched its “Collecci?n Latina,” featuring contemporary Latin-American and Latino-themed films, including Hormigas en la Boca, La Niña Santa and The Mambo Kings.
In the realm of independents, Spanish-language programming appears to be on everyone's radar. Lionsgate less than a year ago hired Arturo Chavez to launch the studio's Spanish-language initiatives. The studio's goal is to produce and acquire Spanish-language films for release on DVD.
Last July's La Mujer de Mi Hermano has been one of Lionsgate's biggest Spanish-language DVD releases. And, the studio has high expectations for El Vacil?n: The Movie, which hit DVD Jan. 30.
But, like the overall DVD market, Spanish-language theatrical feature films aren't the only types of content being released on DVD. Distributors such as Image Entertainment, which has built a catalog of more than 100 titles over the past four years, not only release current films but also classics, comedies, TV shows, sports titles and music DVDs.
“Not only is the product out there, but the sales of the product is there,” said Greta Nodar, director of sales and Latin programming at Image Entertainment.
Some of Image's top sellers are Selena Live: The Last Concert, which has sold 200,000 units since its 2003 release, and Chalino Sanchez: Una Vida de Peligros, with 40,000 units sold since it debuted in October 2004.
Then there are labels that specialize in Spanish-language product. Laguna Productions releases up to 100 DVDs annually, most notably El Padrino and La Llorona (The Wailer).
Xenon Pictures also has been a leader in the Spanish DVD market since its entry in the late 1990s. The studio has released 125 Spanish-language DVDs, and recently created a new market when a partnership with Televisa led to a series of telenovelas coming to DVD.
“Latin/Spanish-language content has been available in the video/DVD market since the days of Betamax,” said Leigh Savidge, CEO and president of Xenon Pictures. “However, it's only in the past two years that something resembling a critical mass of Spanish-language content that consumers actually want has entered the DVD market.”
Mirroring the TV DVD boom in the general DVD market, the Spanish-language side is seeing a similar surge with telenovelas. Xenon has seen strong success with such titles as Amor Real, which has sold 170,000 units, and Rub?, with more than 100,000 units.
“Nearly every telenovela is tracking between 35,000 to 50,000 units,” said Savidge, adding that its latest release Rebelde: Season 1, which came out Jan. 9, is nearing 600,000 units.
The key to moving those units is to provide “well-marketed content that consumers really want,” Savidge said. “You can't show up with one Latin title and say, ‘Here I am.' You have to try a number of different titles, experiment with a number of different marketing methodologies and be prepared to make some mistakes. But when you figure out what works with what, the upside is unlimited.”
Having that flexibility to experiment is what has boosted the home video segment ahead of the theatrical segment in the overall U.S. Spanish-language film industry.
“The cost that goes with launching the films [on video] is relatively less expensive and less risky than launching in theatrical,” said Julio Noriega, director of the film division at Venevision International.
The big studios don't always want to take that chance. Even filmmaker and actor Andy Garcia had trouble finding the funding to make 2005's The Lost City.
“I had to look outside traditional channels,” Garcia said.
It took him 16 years to secure the financing for the English-language movie, in which he plays a Havana nightclub owner caught in the middle of Fidel Castro's revolution. He finally secured it through an investment firm that had no previous experience in the film business. The film was released on DVD by Magnolia Home Entertainment this past August.
“Most studios don't want to embrace a Spanish-language film in the theatrical space unless they think they can get a significant Anglo audience,” Xenon's Savidge said. Films such as The Motorcycle Diaries and Y T· Mamá Tambi?n, he said, were “aimed at upmarket Anglo audiences and got the Spanish-speaking audience through osmosis.”
“In the DVD market, Latin/Spanish-language content is being marketed directly at bilingual and Spanish-speaking consumers,” Savidge said. “As with black audience content before it, the U.S. DVD market is functioning as a laboratory in which the studios grow to understand what consumers will embrace in this category.”
Independents are leading the way in testing the waters of bringing Latino DVD product to audiences.
“We can release more projects out there. We're able to take those risks,” said Gabriel Vicuna, product manager for First Look Home Entertainment. Vicuna oversees the studio's Latino product.
“We can get a small Spanish-language film out and see if it works,” he said. “Some of these movies take off and do well, and then it gets the bigger studios excited and gets more interest in these films.”
And these films are finding wider distribution on DVD than in U.S. theaters. Spanish-language DVDs are distributed in all possible windows, but cost keeps them limited in the theatrical market, Venevision's Noriega said. So most of the recent theatrical hits in Mexico and Latin America are being released directly to home video in the United States, Lionsgate's Chavez said.
The DVD titles are accessible not only to Latinos, but also to the foreign-film audience in the United States.
With such filmmakers as Del Toro, Iñárritu and Almod?var and actors such as Gabriel Garc?a Bernal and Penelope Cruz becoming more recognizable, films such as Y T· Mamá Tambi?n and Amores Perros will have a long life on DVD. It's no coincidence Del Toro's 2001 film The Devil's Backbone was among Amazon.com's top Latino DVD sellers the week Oscar nominations were announced. As Latino talent breaks into the American market, consumers will search for older titles on DVD.
Lexine Wong, senior EVP of worldwide marketing at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, said Cruz's best actress Oscar nomination “is a wonderful and timely bonus, from a marketing perspective,” for the studio's recent eight-film Viva Pedro: The Almod?var Collection. Cruz stars in two films in the collection, All About My Mother and Live Flesh.
The Latino trend also extends to more English-language content from the Latino film industry. Studios such as Warner, Xenon, Image and Vivendi Visual Entertainment are releasing English-language content with extra Latino appeal.
“There's been explosive growth in Latin-based DVDs, creating opportunities for more Latin filmmakers to make Spanish-language films or Latin-themed product in English,” said Tom O' Malley, EVP and GM for Vivendi Visual Entertainment.
So besides English-language content, what's the next big thing in Latino DVD? Some say it's going to come from Mexico, the birthplace of Del Toro, Iñárritu, Bernal, Salma Hayek and Diego Luna.
“There are so many talented directors and filmmakers that haven't gotten any exposure here,” he said. “The attention from the [recent big theatricals] brings more attention to the DVDs. People want to know who's the next Del Toro, the next Iñárritu.”