Argentina Plans to Make Its Own Netflix, Boosting an Industry That ‘No One Sees’

By Gaston Cavanagh

Argentina’s president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is a confessed fan of Netflix — so much so that she has announced plans for the creation of her own “national and people’s” version of the streaming service.

That’s right, a Netflix-like site, exclusively for Argentina, showing primarily domestic film and television productions. Few details are known about the project, except that it will only be available inside the country’s borders, and that it’s meant to promote Argentina’s already heavily subsidized film industry.

For Fernandez de Kirchner, known for a brand of populist politics often playing to Argentines’ strong sense of pride, an on-demand video streaming service like Netflix would also help satisfy her own craving for good TV.

The president’s quips and commentary about blockbuster television series frequently generate headlines. Last year, Kirchner told the country’s citizens from her offices at the Casa Rosada that they should all watch the Neflix series “The Killing.”

“Netflix is seriously good,” she said in September.

Interest in Argentina’s film industry hit a high-note with the 2014 release of top-grossing film “Relatos Salvajes,” or “Wild Tales,” which was nominated for a 2015 Academy Award for best foreign-language film. Argentina’s moviegoers broke their own box-office record this January, topping all previous months for movie theater attendance in the country — thanks to the draw of big Hollywood blockbusters.

But the announcement of a national Netflix-like service for Argentina on June 26 sparked some skepticism. Argentina’s film industry is majority subsidized by government, and has been mired in ongoing allegations of fraud and blacklists, according to investigative reports in the opposition press.

Plus, Argentina already has a public-access streaming video service, called Open Digital Contents, or CDA, which is also only available inside Argentina.

The CDA catalogue consists of fiction series, documentaries, movies, police, suspense, and adventure stories, all featuring Argentine actors, directors, and crew. Plenty of the productions are shot at famous natural settings, like the Perito Moreno glacier, or the Misiones rainforest.

Opened Digital Contents launched in 2012 under Argentina’s ministry of planning, although the reason for its placement there is unclear. The platform’s latest report registered more than 400,000 users and 4,000 daily views, which is not very large for Argentina’s size of 43.4 million.

The discrepancies have sparked criticism from industry types who say Argentina’s government is pumping tax money into a domestic industry that is maxing out.

“There has been an explosion of audiovisual materials in the last years that in no way can be consumed,” respected film critic Gustavo Noriega told VICE News. “There’s no place that can show that amount of content. They are encouraging a fake industry.”

The “people’s” Netflix for Argentina so far has no name and no budget.

The law establishing the service calls for its creation jointly by Argentina’s national satellite company, ArSat, and the country’s National Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts, or INCAA. The on-demand video platform is intended to “promote and encourage national movie productions,” but that it will also stream international and regional fare, the law said.

When VICE News asked Santiago Diehl, the platform’s coordinator, for details, he answered briefly: “I can only tell you that it is not the same thing that is already operating.”

Supporters said the planned streaming service would keep boosting Argentina’s film community, despite reports of low attendance figures overall for subsidized domestic productions. Hundreds of Argentine-produced films in recent years, wrote journalist Jose Crettaz, get seen by 1,000 ticket holders or less. One particular film that debuted in 2008 had a total of 13 people at its premiere.

“What’s important is a monetary flow,” said Noriega, the film reviewer. “They are making productions that no one sees. The viewing public has already been surpassed.”

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