How Prime Video Went From Loss Leader to Key Subscription Driver in Spain: A Conversation With Executives Ricardo Cabornero and Maria José Rodríguez (EXCLUSIVE)

During a star-studded Prime Video Presents event held in Madrid on Tuesday, the Amazon-owned streaming platform made waves when it announced that it would be releasing two of its upcoming original features in cinemas in the coming months, with plans to do more theatrical distribution in the near future.

Following the event, Director of Prime Video in Spain and Portugal, Ricardo Carbornero, and Amazon Studios’ Head of Spanish Originals, Maria José Rodríguez, met with Variety to discuss the company’s adaptable philosophy regarding film and series distribution, evolving Prime Video from a loss leader to a subscription driver and what trends are currently striking a chord with Spanish audiences.

More from Variety

Below is our conversation with the two executives, edited for length and clarity.

There is a lot of pessimism right now regarding the state of theatrical distribution, yet you’re making a move into this area with two of your upcoming original films, “Hildegart” and “Sigue mi voz.” Can you talk a bit about how you see the theatrical landscape and what made a release in cinemas the right decision for these films?

Rodriguez: I believe we’re in a very interesting time for the world of theatrical distribution. The good thing is that we’re at a moment when there are a lot of possibilities that didn’t exist before. As we’ve always said, original production at Prime Video is born from an open mind and a mentality that we want to do what is best for each film and for the talent involved. These variables are what we consider before making any decision about distribution. We also believe that theatrical releases offer a lot of advantages to a film. It helps us with the marketing campaigns and sends a message about our belief in a film.

Speaking with producers around Europe, many feel that the big global streamers are pulling back and ordering less original content. But that doesn’t seem to be the case for Prime Video in Spain, given the lineup you presented here. Has there been a scaling back in the number of productions given greenlights by Prime Video in Spain?

Rodriguez: From the very beginning of our time in Spain, Prime Video has always had a clear strategy, which was to produce quality rather than quantity. In other words, we’re always very conscious of the volume of content we’re working on and aware of how complicated it is to ensure that every project finds its place on the platform. By focusing on quality and limiting the number of productions we release, we limit those challenges. So, you’re right, we haven’t seen scaling back at Prime Video, and actually, in feature films, we’ve seen the opposite, where we’ve grown the number of titles we’re working on.

Carbornero: To be competitive, our productions need to be differentiators that build our brand and drive subscriptions. That means we have had to be daring when it comes to collaborating with partners whose titles are available on our platform. That’s why we say that we’re an entertainment hub. We have integrated with other digital platforms as well as free-to-air channels to offer their titles all in one place on our platform. That also means that we don’t have to produce a large volume of originals. Rather, we need originals that come with notoriety and that will make an impact on the brand, raising the overall level of out offering.

I’m glad you brought up driving subscriptions because it seems from the outside that Prime Video in Spain has evolved from what we were describing as a loss leader a decade ago into a service that now seems to drive Prime subscriptions. Is that an accurate assessment?

Carbornero: I always brag that I was the first employee here in Spain, and when I started, the job was so easy because it was just communicating to existing Prime subscribers that they also had this great video streaming service as part of their subscription. Our goal back then was to make Prime subscribers happier with their subscriptions and to make a Prime subscription more attractive. Now, we’re very clearly seeing that many people subscribe to Prime to get access to Prime Video, and the market, free shipping, and music are the bonuses now. As the individual parts of Prime grow, the synergies between them increase. We’ve seen that with “OT” [“Operación Triunfo”], where young people are getting to know the Prime online market or Prime Music through that series on our platform.

Can you talk a bit more about your relationship with local broadcasters? That synergy seems to be an increasingly important part of the distribution landscape around Europe.

Carbornero: I believe we’re one of the most active players when it comes to collaborating and sharing windows with traditional broadcasters. Again, this is why we refer to ourselves as an entertainment hub, because you can access free-to-air programming on demand on our service. And vice-versa, we have sent Prime Video originals to free-to-air broadcasters here in Spain.

Some platforms stick to hard and fast rules regarding the distribution of films and/or series, but that’s not the case at Prime Video. What are the advantages of being adaptable in how you make your films and shows accessible to audiences?

Rodriguez: From my personal point of view on the original production team, the first thing we want with any new project is to be surprised by what is presented to us. And when you’re surprised, you’re more likely to be open to new possibilities, right? So, as we said earlier regarding theatrical for features, we try to make our distribution decisions based on what the project needs. We’re always very open to absolutely anything, both in terms of story and in terms of format and distribution models.

Carbornero: I agree and would add that this is part of the Amazon culture. Amazon is a huge and complex multinational company, but it’s also very open to any type of proposal and evaluates each on its own merits and the norms of its native territory. We always ask, “What is the best way to reach the customer?” The answer won’t always be the same. Some other streamers may have more generic rules that apply to all of their productions, but we try to maintain a mentality of innovation and finding the best solution for every challenge.

There are some recurrent themes among the titles you announced here: apocalyptic genre stories, films and series about women’s sexuality throughout the last century and, perhaps most of all, true crime. What kinds of narrative trends do you find work particularly well with Spanish audiences today?

Rodriguez: Comedy always works well in Spain, as do thrillers. One benefit of thrillers is that they also travel well to other territories, so those titles can offer a lot to the platform not only in Spain but abroad. Science fiction and genre are both very popular right now; we had three apocalyptic titles in today’s lineup. For us, and I’m probably repeating myself here, the most important thing is that the creators

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.