Nowadays, the boundaries between screen technologies have disintegrated. A film initially planned for a cinematographic device may be viewed on a mobile phone; a video made for a YouTube channel may also be seen on a connected television set. Even though the process of content slippage is no novelty, mainly when it comes to film and television, it is the proliferation of canvases, media and practices of viewer interaction and participation that results in the uniqueness of the current moment which, in turn, is accompanied by a transformation in spectatorship. We stand before an increasingly participant, multiplatform audience.
Marshall McLuhan (1988), published posthumously by his son Eric McLuhan, has observed that, over time, one medium would dominate another altogether. It remained for the old medium not to disappear but to transform into art. Consequently, film has replaced theatre, television has replaced film. This concept may be expanded in pondering whether, presently, television has not already been replaced as the dominant medium by the experience of connectivity and by the consumption of content on digital and interactive platforms. Even disagreeing with this position, it is impossible to ignore the transformations that new media have brought to spectatorship and the consumption of television. Television has changed systematically in a continuous historical process, both as a device and as a phenomenon. There are new potentialities that television gains in contemporaneity due to the advent of the digital and because of its uses.
Brazilian television, being the predominant medium of contemporaneity in the country, attracts millions of people daily to its programming. Currently, TV Globo, part of the largest media conglomerate in Latin America, is also the most significant television broadcaster in Brazil. In 2017, the broadcaster started a campaign among its audience after having celebrated a daily viewership of “over 100 million people” (2017). The fact that Brazil's television still has mass audiences to this day is a quintessential Brazilian phenomenon. In most countries, content, pulverized into various channels and platforms, also results in a fragmented audience. Digital platforms, such as Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, use precisely this audience segmentation, along with user data, to produce narratives with previously identified audience appeal. Netflix announced that in 2020 the platform totalled 167 million users worldwide in 190 countries. Nevertheless, none of the Netflix content has the priority to become a mass audience product, as we shall analyze further.
As a result of its generalist style, TV Globo, a public concession commercially exploited by a private group, creates what Dominique Wolton (1996) defines as a social link between Brazil’s many realities, associating ideology and technique and creating various relationships, always in transformation. Also, in this sense, Esther Hamburger ponders: “Television has established itself as a medium able to address the most varied segments in social, age and regional terms” (2011). Muanis (2018) observes that television also provides a sense of up-to-date-ness that leads the audience to consume given content within a given deadline to participate in conversations and debates in one’s social group. In a country of continental dimensions and distinct social and economic realities, the same news and narratives occupy the more significant part of programming. In this sense, television could also be an immense machine for influence. As noted by Barbosa (2010), the speech made 18 September 1951 by press mogul Assis Chateaubriand at the opening of Tupi TV, the first Brazilian television station, indicates the way this technology was perceived. In Chateaubriand’s words, “the most subversive machine for influencing public opinion - a machine that gives flight to the most capricious fancy and brings together the most far-reaching groups of humanity” (Barbosa, 2010).
Built up over the last decades, TV Globo’s vast linear programming view- ership and economic power are widely criticized. Various groups accuse TV Globo’s journalism of being tendentious, especially in its reporting of Brazil’s political events to its broad audience. In the 2018 elections, both right- and left-wing politicians complained of TV Globo’s election coverage. The question of the protagonist and narrative representativity in fictional content broadcasted is also a point of discussion.
A debate regarding the true extent of the political, cultural and social influence and the economic power of a large television broadcaster such as TV Globo is quite complex and wide-ranging; yet, despite its relevance, lies outside the scope of this research. This book will analyze the transformations of spectatorship of traditional fictional contents of broadcast television that, in turn, currently transcend the boundaries of their narrative format and also of their original support or device, taking into account the media ecosystem, the participatory experiences and screen convergence. Coined by Scolari (2009, 2019), the term “media ecosystem” designates the set of media, platfonns and screens used in the circulation, distribution, interaction and exhibition of content in a unique or convergent way. It is a way of accounting semantically for the multiplicity of supports, genres and constitution of different possibilities of the image and interactivity with the public.
The main question asked here is how Brazilian television and its massive viewership, having as an outline its most traditional content, the telenovela, can or cannot transfonn itself and survive the arrival of digital platforms with segmented content. How does the Brazilian telenovela resist, negotiate and adhere to new platforms and transformations in spectatorship?
To answer this question, we must first define what this book understands by “television” in Brazil, what the importance of the telenovela is to that definition, and moreover (indeed mainly) why the transformations of this content and its viewers’ spectatorship are vital in speculating on the future of television in Brazil. The hypothesis - based on an analysis of the telenovela’s format, its influences, consumption, characteristics and transformations - is that, as long as the telenovela continues to be part of Brazilian culture, it will continue to be a mass product.
Many European authors use the terms paleotelevision and neotelevision (Eco, 1984; Casetti and Odin, 1998; Scolari, 2009) to describe the transition between an exclusively public European TV with more pedagogical and educational needs, to the private, commercial television that succeeded it in the mid-1970s, with another programming format and flow. European paleo-television had the philosophy of public service; neo-television had a capitalist perspective of profit. Scolari (2009, 2019) coined the term hypertelevision, which would not be the new stage of the paleo/neo series but, instead, a particular configuration of the socio-technical network around the medium of television. In hypertelevision, viewer control is more significant. Beyond changing channels, the viewer may interact with the content in other media.
In analyzing US television, several authors (Williams, 1974; Fiske, 1987; Lotz, 2007; Mittel, 2015) use the term Network Era to describe the period between the 1950s and the mid-1980s in which three television networks dominated the country’s audience. Williams (1974) argues that a typical television experience was the linear flow of programming as a whole to the detriment of separate programme consumption. In many ways, this period is very similar to that of hegemonic television in Brazil today, in which four broadcasters dominate the more significant part of the audience: TV Globo, Record, SBT and TV Band. However, television changes in each country according to its specific contexts, and Brazilian television possesses unique characteristics, as we shall see ahead. Lotz (2007) describes the way the Network Era of mass media in the US gave way to the Post Network Era and the fragmentation of the viewing audience in a wide variety of cable television stations specifically conceived for niche audiences. This period is also marked by changes at a material level even as content and services become less linked to the physical presence of the television set. This transformation also affected American network television content. Mittell (2015) states that expectations of how viewers watch television, how producers create stories, and how series are distributed have changed, leading to a new model of television that he calls complex TV. To him, television becomes complex as narratives are required to fulfil the expectations of a more attentive multiplatform audience, given that a programme may be viewed many times and content additionally pursued on various available screens.
We must rethink what it means to watch television, the group of practices associated with it and what exactly constitutes television content before analyzing if this medium is coming to an end.
Jerome Bourdon analyzes discourses of the end of the medium and observes that the end of television started to be discussed as desirable very early in history, with a remarkable core of common arguments across countries. Bourdon considers that “the discourse of the desirable end of television cannot be separated from the long perception, at least among cultural and political elites, of television as a ‘bad medium’ or as a ‘bad object’” (2018). Although admitting that expectations regarding television have changed, Lotz (2007) ponders that the transformations in the forms of watching audiovisual content have not accelerated the end of television but, instead, revolutionized that medium. She refers to US television, but here, I propose to reflect on the process of Brazilian television.
Brazilian television broadcasting was inaugurated in the 1950s, following the transmission format of radio, offering only local programming and transmission. Although television stations are public concessions, television in Brazil was a private enterprise from its onset; business groups that commanded media corporations - newspapers and radio stations - ventured into the new medium. The first station, Tupi TV from Sao Paulo, owned by the powerful media mogul Assis Chateaubriand, sold the equivalent of one year’s worth of advertising to four different companies to finance its investments. The beginning of Brazilian television was, therefore, the opposite of the same period in European television. As the business grew and revenue increased, Brazilian television broadcasters became production companies, in addition to exhibiting and distributing content. To this day, the most significant share of open television content is produced in studios that belong to major corporations. Competition and new transmission possibilities led the local television broadcasters to become national networks.
Public television stations emerged in Brazil only during the 1970s, but they never achieved the same audience numbers as private broadcasters.
Currently, the majority of television stations in Brazil, as in other parts of the world, seek technological solutions for online consumption of their content, whether through the live transmission of streamed programming, or through the exhibition, with hybrid business models, of programmes belonging to their collection and original productions on digital platforms. The transmission itself of audiovisual content for television has also transformed, as did cable or satellite transmission, which until recently was the primary form of distribution of what was seen on television.
Nevertheless, Brazilian broadcast television currently bears many resemblances to economic strategies of the period described by European theorists as neotelevision. Brazilian broadcast television also possesses massive audiences, in what is described as the Network Era by American authors. However, this does not mean that the Brazilian public does not have access to services that would be characteristic of more recent periods of television in the US and Europe. Although comparable in many ways to the theories and descriptions of various authors about stages in television history in different periods and countries, the Brazilian model is unique, and this includes its most traditional content: telenovelas.
According to Martin-Barbero (1997, 2004), the telenovela is not merely a well-established Brazilian television genre; it is the most important and longest-running programme format in Brazilian television, upheld by rules of melodrama and constitute nothing less than the Latin American narrative matrix. Martin-Barbero argues that it is a mistake to think that television would be a subject of communication rather than of culture, given that signs of Latin American cultural identity are recognizable in telenovela melodrama, recovering folk memory through industrial content. To him, no other genre has been as successful in captivating the region’s audiences. Hamburger (2011) observes that “the Brazilian telenovela challenges polarization between high and low culture, classical and popular culture, modernism and mass culture.” In Brazil, the notions of broadcast television and telenovela are mixed and are interpreted to be the same.
Forty-one telenovelas were broadcast on Brazilian television in 2016, 21 of them new on TV Globo, TV Record, SBT, TV Band and TV Brasil. There were 16 telenovela time slots per day. If we also take into consideration the Viva cable network channel linked to the Globo group, which reruns telenovelas, there were 5,431 exhibition hours in 2016. Of the 84.7 million people who watched the genre that year, 64.7 million viewers (approximately 80% of the viewing public) watched TV Globo telenovelas.
As a writer and director, whether in independent film productions or work for television broadcasters, I participated directly in the elaboration and production of several audiovisual works - feature-films, television series and programmes, and web series. Among those, I wrote four telenovelas for TV Globo: two seasons of MalhaqaofYoung Hearts (2012 and 2014 - the first season was a nominee for the Digital Emmy awards in 2013, and the second for the International Emmy Kids awards in 2016 and in 2017), the telenovela Totalmente Demais/Total Dreamer (2016 - International Emmy nominee for best telenovela in 2017), and, finally, the telenovela Bom Sucesso/A Life Worth Living (2019). Through them, I also took part in several initiatives for extending this content to other screens. Therefore, this is a hybrid work that mixes empirical experience and market sources with theoretical sources. Monaco (2010) ponders that some academics examine their multiple positions as fans (of series) and researchers (of series as well as of their fan groups) as vulnerable and hide them from other scholars. She considers the advantages of being explicit about the process and how localized identity and emotional recall inform research choices. Hills’ research on fans (2002) also considers that academia usually rejects the idea of hybrid identities - that may unite not only within the academy but also outside it. In my case, the hybrid identities are those of scriptwriter and audiovisual director and that of researcher. I have chosen to explore both identities because of my belief that exposing the processes in which 1 participated would also contribute to the research at hand. During the last few years, I have worked intermittently for TV Globo as a director, series, and telenovela and transmedia writer. But this does not mean that I participate, approve of or even have access to the company’s strategic decisions regarding screen convergence or any other subject. I only participate in the creative and artistic content of the works with which I am involved. In this research, suppositions regarding television’s business model are based on market movements, data analysis and research, legal matters and government regulation in counterpoint to the network’s initiatives. The following chapters analyze some of the empirical experiences in which I have participated in addition to similar experiences in writing for daily episodic television.
The second chapter of this book discusses telenovelas in Brazil from a historical and cultural point of view, the transformations the narrative experienced and which attributes that remain the same until the present. Various agents influenced the telenovela narrative throughout its history, with emphasis on melodrama, feuilleton and the spectator. Even after almost 70 years of existence, the telenovela continues to be the central narrative of a massive audience in Brazil. Telenovelas are also exported to several other countries and territories. The chapter additionally analyzes the main characteristics of telenovela storytelling: themes, format and language elements.
The third chapter seeks to demonstrate how a telenovela is developed, from the first idea to the structuring and production of episodes. This chapter deepens and details the writing process which is essential to the format and also to the chain of power of the telenovela. In this chapter, empirical practice and experiences have more weight than in the remainder of the book. The reason is the lack of theoretical material on narrative construction and the process of writing Brazilian telenovelas in contrast to vast material regarding the process of the narrative construction of series and film scripts.
The fourth chapter investigates the public’s relationship with the telenovela from the perspective of what a viewer expects from daily drama and how narrative adapts itself to these expectations; the possible dialogue between this viewer and the producers and network executives; what this viewer’s power effectively is; and how it has been increased (or not) by new technologies and interactive platforms.
The fifth chapter of this book deals with the telenovela’s business model and the consumption of narrative, of its characters, of its world. This theme has various layers, both the telenovela’s relationship to a romantic ethics of consumption, as well as the appropriation by the public of postures and attitudes portrayed in television and the subsequent re-signification of the narrative. Content may also be seen as a product shared and understood by fans as a gift. This chapter will also tackle the intertwining of consumer products and the telenovela narrative as part of a business model.
The sixth chapter, made up of four case studies, explores the viewers’ relationship to the telenovela and how new technologies have transformed this relationship and created a new balance of interaction. They are experiences related to the new spectatorship, to transmedia content, to the phenomenon of screen convergence, and slippage of content between distribution and exhibition platforms. Initially, we analyze the first experience of transmedia narrative content produced for a 9pm telenovela, the main product of Brazilian network television today; then an experiment with fan- fic and telenovela; next, a spin-off of a telenovela for the internet; and, finally, the sliding of a 9pm telenovela to Globoplay’s digital platform. The existence of a Brazilian-style convergence of media and the development of the transmedia experience in Brazil are under consideration here.
Finally, the conclusion of this book re-examines the main questions raised and discussed across its chapters: can the telenovela be the key to the survival of Brazilian television industry, and how can this narrative survive the sliding of content to other screens and media, the arrival of digital and interactive platforms and the transformations in spectatorship?
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