SOMOS Group President and CEO Luis Villanueva, who is spearheading the company’s growth, talks to World Screen about its various businesses and their synergies.
The businesses within SOMOS Group run the spectrum of the media landscape. From SOMOSTV, which houses the Spanish-language pay-TV channels ViendoMovies and Semillitas, to SOMOS Next, which in a short time has become a strong player in the OTT space with FlixLatino. SOMOS Productions has been delivering a steady supply of live awards shows and scripted series, moving to the next level on the international stage with the success of Hasta Que Te Conocí. Also part of the group, SOMOS Distribution has a diverse catalog of in-house-produced and third-party fare. The newest addition to the company’s umbrella, SOMOS Films is riding high on the resurgence of the LatAm movie industry with its own slate of feature films.
WS: What has been driving the growth at SOMOS Group?
VILLANUEVA: The growth at SOMOS Group is being driven by the synergies among the companies on one hand, and on the other, by the success of each of its businesses. Points of contact in this business are common to a high degree and at the same time, each product delivered by the SOMOS companies needs to perform at its best.
In many cases, we license content to program on our channels and at the same time, we help our suppliers in distributing that same content via SOMOS Distribution or SOMOS Next. Sometimes a client of SOMOSTV is also interested in programs from our SOMOS Distribution catalog. Most importantly, much of the content we produce at SOMOS Productions is supported in sales by SOMOS Distribution, and this is facilitated in turn by the success of SOMOS Productions’ programs with the audience.
I would say this virtuous cycle, as well as the performance of each company on its own, is driving the growth of the group, and that was the purpose of its creation, besides the operational efficiencies that also contribute to the business. I have to mention as well that success and growth are always based on people, and we have a great team at each company.
WS: What are the latest developments within SOMOSTV?
VILLANUEVA: SOMOSTV was the initial platform for all our activities. The company was based on ViendoMovies, a film channel that is today a quality reference in the market. This channel, commercial-free and with a premium presence, has been successfully based on programming the best exclusive films, only theatrical releases, originally produced in Spanish. This positioning makes it a “must-have” channel for the most important cable, satellite and telcos. While we have a presence with the most important companies, we do have room to grow with midsize and small carriers.
Semillitas, on the other hand, has been a pleasant surprise. The channel performs very well in a highly competitive environment and against prestigious brands based on the selection of top-quality animation and cultural relevance for Latino parents. This channel has had so much success that it became the spearhead in the internationalization of SOMOSTV. Today, Semillitas is growing not only in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, but also in Central America, the Caribbean and soon in Mexico. In Semillitas we have work to do both domestically and abroad.
WS: What are the primary programming sources for the channels?
VILLANUEVA: The channels are primarily programmed from recognized film and animation producers and distributors. We maintain relationships with the most important distributors and independent producers of this type of content and, at the same time, our channels include our own productions.
In the case of ViendoMovies, we produce coverage of the main film festivals and events where Spanish-language films participate. We also support our mission of promoting the industry with interviews with stars and directors and, at the same time, ViendoMovies collaborates in the diffusion of the positive impact of the Latino culture in our communities. All this in-house-produced content enrichens the channel.
In the case of Semillitas, we produce content that is used in giving this space the cultural relevance we need for the channel’s differentiation and positioning. Semillitas programs pieces related to Latino traditions and festivities, language and basic skills, and all these pieces support its educational role.
WS: What are the latest developments with SOMOS Next, and how do you see that platform evolving in the future?
VILLANUEVA: SOMOS Next is our entry into new platforms and in what no doubt will be a significant part of the future. OTT content distribution is a key part of the business today, and our content in SOMOS Next is placed on the online retailers (Amazon, Apple, etc.) and also in our direct-to-consumer apps (FlixLatino and Pinguinitos). This is quite important because it represents a different type of expertise in distribution and in marketing tools, with a unique set of technical skills.
We see these products growing in distribution online and in all connected devices (telephones, computers, smart TVs, etc.). We have signed, in this sense, important deals that will be announced soon and look forward to more growth in the future.
WS: How has SOMOS Productions been expanding its slate? Has the success of Hasta Que Te Conocí opened up new doors for the company?
VILLANUEVA: SOMOS Productions has been growing in a very solid manner. Hasta Que Te Conocí, Juan Gabriel’s biopic, opened many doors and had a significant impact in the industry, becoming one of the most successful programs in U.S. Spanish-language television and internationally as well. The series initiated a trend that continues today. SOMOS Productions’ partnerships with BTF Media, Disney Latin America, Endemol Shine, Nickelodeon Latin America, Telemundo and other prestigious names, of course, give the credibility and experience to grow.
We are now producing Súbete a Mi Moto: La Historia de Menudo Contada Según su Creador (together with Endemol Shine Latino, Boomdog and Piñolywood), the saga of the boy band that became an international success. We are starting the production of Cazadores de Milagros (with Disney Latin America, Spain’s Mediapro Group and Mexico’s BTF Media) and San Juan Diego, La Historia de la Virgen de Guadalupe (with Endemol Shine Boomdog).
We are focusing both on series that have the possibility of traveling internationally and live shows as well, such as the Latin American Music Awards and the Billboard Mexican Music Awards.
WS: How did it come about that SOMOS Distribution represents Turkish dramas?
VILLANUEVA: This is a great story. As an independent distribution company, our mission is to bring our clients the most innovative and high-quality content we can find in an industry that is global. We saw the production quality and solid stories of the Turkish dramas and their success in other territories. Even though they were outside of the traditional telenovela elements, we decided to take the risk. We were pleasantly surprised by the dramas’ acceptance from the audience and decided to build a catalog, with the results that everybody knows today.
Of course, you need clients that share your vision and the rest is left to the audience. Today, Turkish dramas have impacted the traditional telenovela, modifying its structure and focus and, we believe, for the benefit of everybody.
WS: How much of the SOMOS Distribution catalog is from SOMOS Productions and how much is third party?
VILLANUEVA: Most of our catalog is from third parties, since a distribution company needs a variety of genres and targets. We want to be a one-stop shop for our clients’ needs, and while SOMOS Productions’ content may be sometimes one of the main dishes, the complement is our excellent catalog of series, dramas, telenovelas, movies, documentaries and variety programs.
Again, we look to add content that is successful and innovative and also to become the support in sales for producers or companies that can leverage our strengths, especially in Spanish-speaking territories. Our search moves with industry trends. These days, episodic content (series and dramas) is quite in demand, based on the new TV-watching habits, and we work to offer a wide selection to our clients.
WS: SOMOS Films is the newest member of the group. Why is this an important area for the company to be in, and how are you looking to capitalize on the resurgence of the LatAm film industry and grow this side of the business?
VILLANUEVA: As you know, films are in our essence, and with SOMOS Films we grow our catalog and take advantage of the resurgence you talked about. Again, SOMOS Films synergizes with SOMOSTV and SOMOS Next (ViendoMovies and FlixLatino) and with our distribution efforts in certain territories. We have a very flexible approach to film production, taking advantage of fiscal stimulus in certain countries and of our knowledge of the players in the industry.
As of today, SOMOS Films has three films: Muerte en Berruecos, a historical drama; Voy Por Ti, a film about adolescence and its problems; and El Paraíso de la Serpiente, a fictional/magic story, and we are contemplating several projects. This is an exciting area for us that, as you can see, enrichens our library and promotes our businesses.
WS: As the group’s activities have expanded, what remain your favorite parts about this job and this industry?
VILLANUEVA: I see my job as the evolution of a career that started as a financial officer, progressively moving into leadership roles. It has been an exciting way to develop my entrepreneurial instincts in an exciting industry. The entertainment industry is key to modern lifestyles and combines elements that have always attracted me: creativity, business sense, and these characteristics have also helped in developing an intuitive sense of where things are going.
I see myself as a promoter of businesses and a provider of strategic directions for the group’s companies, watching carefully over their financial viability and health.
Personally speaking, my job has provided me with means to reach professional and personal satisfaction. It has given me the means to travel the world and provide for my family, develop friends and work for a sense of personal realization. As it is true for any human being, these are the most important reasons to get up every day.
I am satisfied and thankful to the team and partners that have allowed me to build SOMOS Group.
WS: What are your goals for the year ahead?
VILLANUEVA: My goals are to keep working to consolidate this growth and to have each company reach its maximum potential. In these times of rapid change, we have to work both in maintaining the traditional business, while adapting at the same time to the changes that technology is demanding for the companies’ long-term health.