The audience and the telenovela: transformations and resilience of spectatorship

In Brazil, broadcast television attracts tens of millions of people daily to watch telenovelas between 6pm and 11pm, interspersed with local and national news. More than a device, television is a set of behaviours and practices, a pact, in continuous negotiation, with the audience. More than an offer of content, television is an arena and a starting point for dialogue with the viewer - and it is the viewer who holds the final word. In this chapter, the analysis of the telenovela will be from the public’s perspective.

According to the research of the Ibero-American Observatory of Television Fiction by Vassallo de Lopes and Lemos (2019), in 2018 at least 60% of the audience was female in telenovelas aired from 6pm to 11pm on TV Globo. In that same year, 50.83% of the total population of Brazil was female. People from all socioeconomic backgrounds watch telenovelas, but a higher concentration of at least 48% of the audience is from C middle class.1 All age groups watch telenovelas, but there is a higher percentage of people above 35. According to the research institute Kantar Ibope Media, in 2018, the 9pm telenovela had an average audience rating of about 28 million people per day in Brazil’s 15 main markets. The percentage of women viewers is higher during 6pm telenovelas and higher among men at later hours. Regarding age group, the 7pm telenovela appears as the most viewed by children and adolescents. The 6pm and 9pm slots are the favourite of the public aged 50 and over. The programming of corporate television follows the daily life of Brazilians. Therefore, it is possible to affirm that the station produces content with the audiences described here in mind.

Eneida Nogueira (Svartman and Nogueira, 2018), research director of TV Globo until 2017, ponders that several reports point out television as a companion for the viewer generating a dimension of “belonging”: the feeling that the viewer is part of society and is not alone since there is the notion of other viewers doing the same thing at the same time; television is a source of information to know what is happening outside the house; the next day, this viewer will have a repertoire in common with other people. As Wolton

(1996) observed, to watch a teleno vela in Brazil is part of a social bond that mobilizes millions of people. However, the viewer adds to the narrative other secondary and tertiary texts, as Fiske (1987) theorized, in addition to personal experiences, expectations and dreams. The telenovela provides the Brazilian public with a reflection on its reality and current themes; provides information and knowledge; aids in identification with character traits, stories and emotions; offers an opportunity to fantasize and distance the audience from reality; offers relaxation and finally, inspiration. Almeida (2001) analyzed the consumption of the telenovela О Rei do Gado/King of Cattle (1997). She finds that, because it is about affective relationships, the telenovela interacts in these themes with spectators, provoking reflections on intimate and family relationships. Thus, the telenovela also constitutes a cultural text capable of promoting a singular sentimental education through a reflexive process of viewers with the narrative. Almeida (2001) cites as an example mothers who use the narrative to talk about delicate topics such as sexuality and love with their sons and daughters.

This chapter investigates the viewer’s relationship with the telenovela under several aspects: viewer expectations and how the narrative adapts to them; the dialogue between the narrative and the viewer and where power lies in this relationship; and finally, how this balance is amplified (or not) by new technologies and interactive platforms.

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